South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for the Rural Economy Colin Smyth has described as “shameful” the actions of local Conservative MPs after they voted against an amendment to the UK Agriculture Bill in the House of Commons which sought to protect UK farmers from low-standard food imports.
The local MSP says South Scotland MPs Alister Jack and David Mundell have serious questions to answer after they ignored calls by farmers, including the National Farmers Union, to support the amendment tabled by Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton Neil Parish. The amendment to the UK Agriculture Bill, which will be the foundation of UK food and farming policy once the Brexit process is complete, would have ensured that standards for imported food would have to match UK standards.
There is a now concerns from farmers that the move could open the UK market to imports of lower quality meat from production systems made cheaper by the unrestricted use of genetically modified crops and hormonal growth promotors, systems very different from Scotland’s grass-based farms.
The amendments were voted down by a margin of 149 by MPs on Wednesday and the Bill is now likely to go to the House of Lords, before returning to the Commons later in the summer.
Colin Smyth said: “Both David Mundell and Alistair Jack have serious questions to answer. They need to account for their actions and explain why they think the many farmers in their constituencies are wrong and they were right to ignore their views.
“This amendment would have helped protect the Scottish food and farming sector from sub-standard imports and it is completely shameful that it was voted down. Farmers don’t believe the UK Government when they claim they will secure these standards in trade deals with countries such as the USA who will be desperate to flood our supermarkets with food created under lower standards.
“This Bill is a very important piece of legislation and without this amendment there is a real fear that the UK market could see a influx of poor quality meat produced at lower environmental, welfare and food safety standards than those we currently have in place in Scotland.
“Agriculture is a hugely important sector in Dumfries and Galloway and we must ensure that our hard working farmers and the fantastic food they produce do not suffer as a result of the reckless behaviour of these MPs.”
Following the vote on the Bill, NFU Scotland director of policy Jonnie Hall commented: “While the passing of this landmark Bill unamended was no surprise, it was still deeply disappointing. The UK Agriculture Bill is a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation and it must safeguard the sustainability of domestic food production and the integrity of domestic food consumption.
“The Bill presents an opportunity to ensure that agri-food imports in the future are produced to at least equivalent environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards as those required of farmers and crofters in Scotland and the UK.
“Anything less would undermine the highest standards to which the industry in Scotland works to, and the entire agri-food supply chains of the UK.
“Encouragement can be taken from those MPs who argued so strongly yesterday for amendments to the Bill and NFU Scotland will continue to press its case as part a 26-strong UK-wide alliance of agricultural, environmental, animal welfare and consumer groups as the Bill enters the Lords.”