What’s Going On Here?
On Monday October 12, the UK Government voted with a majority of 53 to strip amendment 16 from the Agriculture Bill, which would have safeguarded food standards in trade deals.
What Does This Mean?
The Agriculture Bill sets out a roadmap for farming after Brexit. It includes the government’s plan to reward farmers for doing “public good” such as planting trees or improving water quality, which has been widely welcomed.
But when it comes to the issue of animal welfare and food standards there has been a major clash between government and environmentalists, farmers and animal welfare campaigners who supported amendment 16.
Thousands of people signed online petitions and wrote to their MPs over the weekend, and the National Farmers’ Union gathered more than 1m signatures for its campaign, which was also supported by celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver.
But the government voted against it, a driving factor being that ministers are eager not to tie the hands of negotiators battling to secure free trade agreements.
Why Should We Care?
Those in support of the amendment have focused on chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-fed beef and ractopamine-dosed pigs, all features of US industrial production systems that we know are bad for people and the planet.
Environmentalists say the amendments would have helped curb British support for dubious farming practices around the world, which are fuelling deforestation, climate change and biodiversity loss.
The defeat of amendment 16 also risks flooding stores with low-quality produce, thereby threatening the livelihoods of Britain’s farmers who are upholding high standards,
contributing to climate targets, nurturing the environment and producing local, healthy food.
All pretty depressing…but one positive to emerge is the unification of typically disparate farming and environmental groups who all agree that food standards are a vital part of Britain’s agricultural industry.
While the defeat is a blow to the many who believe Britain could lead the world in sustainable farming, as consumers we can still make important choices about where we buy our food and support British farmers with high standards and sustainable practices.
- If you eat meat, make sure you know its traceability, support British farmers and shop local!
- Organisations like Sustain, the Sustainable Food Trust, and the Food, Farming + Countryside Commission are all rich resources to learn more about food and farming in the UK
- And now a cheeky plug…if you’re interested in localised food systems that combat factory farming, this short film I made sets out why local abattoirs are an important part of this: The Swan Song of the Local Abattoir: