Agriculture Bill: Covid-19 demonstrates vital and fragile role of farming and food

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has called on the government to protect the “vital” farming industry in light of their importance during the coronavirus crisis. Commenting as Parliament considers the Agriculture Bill with impacts on food standards for future trade deals, the former farming spokesperson noted that the Bill would not receive the normal degree of scrutiny due to the limitations on parliamentary time caused by coronavirus.

Mr Carmichael said:

“The impact of Covid-19 has demonstrated clearly the vital role of our farmers and crofters in times of national crisis. It has also shown the fragile position many food producers are in. The government must support them in recovering from the current economic shock and shield them from further disruption.

“We know in light of the current crisis that measures requiring government reporting on food security are not strong enough. We are fortunate in the UK to have high standards for food and a diverse agriculture sector – we need to build on this and support our level of self-sufficiency.” 

He continued:

“I share NFUS concerns about the pace at which the government is pushing through this legislation. While parliamentary time is limited due to coronavirus this remains an important Bill which deserves full scrutiny. Farmers and crofters need full confidence that standards for trade will be respected. Close collaboration on agriculture issues with the devolved governments is essential.”

Clare Slipper, NFUS spokesperson, said:

“It is the firm view of NFUS that debate on the Bill must recognise the importance of supporting primary producers to provide security of food supply, and for that food to continue to be produced to the highest of standards. We appreciate the support of Alistair Carmichael and the Liberal Democrats on this issue.

“A critical issue is the fact that the UK Agriculture Bill does not explicitly rule out the importation of agricultural products that are produced to a lower standard nor does it enshrine UK/EU standards.  That major omission could expose the UK’s farming sector to competition from imported food that has been produced to lower food safety, environmental, and animal welfare standards, some of which are illegal here.

“The frequency of reporting on food security must be increased to an annual requirement. It is also vital that the Bill sets out clearer requirements relating to the degree of the nation’s food security derived from domestic production, and commitments to prevent any further declines in self-sufficiency.”

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