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In 2016, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustace said that the UK’s exit from the European Union would open up opportunities for a Green Brexit, But following a parliamentary vote on the Agriculture Bill earlier this month, the Soil Association has warned that this ambition hangs in the balance.
“MPs voted against an amendment that would prohibit low-quality imports, and they were encouraged to do so by the government. Far from ‘taking back control’ and ‘achieving so much more for farmers and our environment’, the rejection of this amendment could undermine any hope of a ‘Green Brexit’ or a healthier and more sustainable farming sector,” the group said.
As the UK negotiates new trade deals with countries such as the US, there are concerns that imports of low welfare and environmentally damaging produce will undermine the UK’s food and farming standards. However, the amendment from Conservative MP Neil Parish that would have ensured imported produce met UK environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards was not incorporated into the bill.
A second amendment that would have supported farmers to adopt agroecological and organic farming was also voted down.
The Soil Association will continue to push for amendments on agroecology and trade as the Agriculture Bill passes into the House of Lords. “A truly ‘Green Brexit’ will be one with agroecology and organic at its heart, where trade policy ensures high environmental and animal welfare standards, and where food and farming policy enhance public health,” the group said. “This future is by no means guaranteed. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be pushing to make it a reality.”
Two amendments laid before Parliament would have strengthened the bill by supporting farmers to adopt agroecological and organic farming.
Speaking to the House yesterday, Kerry McCarthy MP said, “Agroecology is a cause whose time has come.
“This pandemic has brought home to many people how dysfunctional our relationship with the natural world has become, with overconsumption, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, a food system that is broken, and birds and wildlife disappearing from our countryside and gardens.”
Caroline Lucas MP echoed these sentiments, highlighting that if the UK Government is to deliver on its promise of a ‘Green Brexit’, then the UK must go beyond best practice in Europe. Lucas said,
“This week, a leaked copy of the EU 2030 biodiversity strategy revealed proposals for at least 25% of farmland to be organic, alongside a wider uptake of agroecological practices, a 50% reduction in pesticide use and cuts to mineral fertiliser use.
“On Second Reading, the then Secretary of State claimed that leaving the EU meant a greener future for British farming, where the UK would apparently do so much better for wildlife and the landscape. If that is to be reality and not just rhetoric, we need an Agriculture Bill that matches or goes further than the EU proposals on pesticides, agroecology and organic farming.”
The amendments for agroecology were not incorporated into the bill, and neither was a crucial amendment from Conservative Neil Parish MP, which would have ensured that food and farming standards are not undercut by a future trade deal.
Earlier this week, the Soil Association was signatory of a letter to George Eustace, now Secretary of State, saying,
“The Bill should ensure that agri-food imports are produced to at least equivalent environmental, animal welfare, and food safety standards as those required of producers in the UK.”