Harrogate MP faces protest today from campaign to 'Save British Farmers'

A campaign to save British farming from the possibility of a lowering of the protection for food standards as the Government reaches for a trade deal with the USA is to mount a protest today, Friday at the offices of Harrogate and Knaresborough's MP.

Friday, 9th October 2020, 12:47 pm
Tractors rumble down Northallerton High Street last month as part of a Save British Farming protest. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

A small group of protesters with placards will be gathering outside Andrew Jones' office in Harrogate as part of efforts across the county to put pressure on North Yorkshire MPs to vote against the Government's Agriculture Bill.

Naysayers who include farmers, the NFU, MPs from all parties, peers and celebrity chefs, say the crucial day is next Monday, October 12 when the Agriculture Bill returns to the House of Commons.

MPs will have the final say on some amendments that aim to protect UK food standards, make farming work for climate and nature, and to tackle pesticides.

Richard Sadler, the North Yorkshire organiser of campaign group Save British Farming said: "The Government is selling British farmers down the river.

"They want to pass bills that will ditch UK animal welfare and environmental standards for imported food, flood the market with cheap, low-quality products and destroy Britain’s world-class farming industry."

The Government insists it will not reduce standards but some commentators believe there are around 30 Tories who could rebel in the vote on the agriculture bill, which could come as early as next week, because the rebels want tougher protections written and put into law.

As for Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones himself, he told the Harrogate Advertiser that the debate was one he understood.

Mr Jones said: "The UK has some of the highest food standards in the world.

"And when we left the EU we incorporated their food standards in to our national law.

"The Government should be ensuring that our national law incorporates high food standards and it does – including meeting the standards which currently apply in the EU.”

With the UK-EU negotiations proving difficult and a no-deal Brexit looming, campaigners believe the Government is willing to pay the price of a US trade deal at the expense of British farming by changing the rules to allow in American meat with lower health standards in areas such as pesticides.

The EU has been demanding that the UK keeps its ban on imports such as chlorinated chicken as a requirement for a trade agreement with Brussels.

As part of the Agriculture Bill, the UK government wants to shift farm grants to reward activities that enhance the environment.

But its opponents are concerned at the lack of clarity over exactly how the transformation would happen, and want the whole process revised and the bill amended.

A Government spokesperson said: "The UK is renowned for its high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards.

"We have been clear that in all of our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards."

But the Soil Association, not noted for being one of the UK's most political organisations, fears an influx of sub-standard food, pumped with hormones and antibiotics.

A spokesperson for the Soil Association said: "The farming community have objected en masse, as shown in the NFU's food standards petition.

"The majority of the British public think we should not accept lower quality food imports. Now Jamie Oliver and a host of celebrities are warning of the risks it poses to child health, too."

Opinion polls show 95% of the public oppose US food imports and more than 20 Tory MPs - including Tory MP for outer York, Julian Sturdy, have already come out and said they will support the amendment.

Save British Farming claims last May all of North Yorkshire's current Tory MPs failed to support a rebel Tory amendment to the bill that would have banned imports of food from the US produced to lower standards than those required of UK farmers.

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