A CUMBRIAN farm executive says he shares the same frustration as Labor Shadow business secretary Emily Thornberry, who launched a scathing attack on government trade policy that she says will bankrupt farmers.
National Farmers Union Cumbria board delegate and Red Tractor Lamb and Beef committee chairman Alistair Mackintosh said he was “concerned” about the government’s approach to trade deals. If it was right to maintain the high standards of British agriculture – which all farmers supported – he said that was undermined by trade policy.
The Labor MP said at a meeting on the sidelines of the NFU at this week’s party conference in Brighton: The world’s largest agricultural exporters.
Ms Thornberry said a “pragmatic” trade deal would include: a certain level of tariffs, to account for different costs and environmental damage in other parts of the world; Quotas to allow the UK to meet its import needs without a bonus that would harm farmers; Minimum production standards to ensure a level playing field.
Yet the government, in its dealings with Australia and now New Zealand, had ignored all of these considerations, she said.
“These two precedents will leave us unable to argue for anything different when it comes to the United States, Canada and Brazil. It is an act of economic, political and social madness, ”she said at the meeting.
Mr Mackintosh, a sheep and beef farmer from western Cumbria, said: “The challenge for me is the standards of the imported products. The story tells us it’s about protecting our standards, but we’re being asked to take on all the other producers in the world, who don’t necessarily meet those same standards. This could potentially be the biggest challenge we face. ”
He added that the UK should use trade policy to impose higher standards in other parts of the world.
“When it comes to pushing farmers into bankruptcy, it’s not just trade policy that could do it, there are also other factors, like age and farm payments that are disappearing and being replaced by ELMS. ”
NFU President Minette Batters said: “British farmers produce some of the best food in the world. Not only is it delicious and nutritious, it’s produced to incredibly high standards for the environment, animal welfare, traceability and food safety – something not all countries can say.
“Yet in recent years, not enough emphasis has been placed on UK food production. This has been all too clear as the country saw its self-sufficiency drop from 78% in the mid-1980s to its current level of only 60%. As an island nation very well suited to quality food production, it would be a mistake to let this happen again and become even more dependent on the rest of the world to feed us.
“To issue a comprehensive report on food security and take appropriate action in response would show the government is serious and ambitious in boosting sustainable food production in Britain. This would not only help reduce the UK’s dependence on imports, which are often below our own high production standards, but also allow farmers to develop the UK brand overseas through trade.
“If our government really supports the potential of UK food and agriculture, the country could reap huge benefits. UK farmers could increase the industry’s economic contribution and deliver more nutritious, affordable and climate-friendly UK food to UK buyers and people around the world, while boosting national and global food security.
The report also shows how the UK can reduce its dependence on food imports.