Liz Truss today rejected fresh calls to guarantee all UK farming standards in law as Jamie Oliver described the International Trade Secretary as the ‘ministerial version of Del Boy’.
Ms Truss told MPs that enshrining standards on the statute book would risk disrupting UK trade with developing nations.
The Government’s continued refusal to budge on the issue has sparked warnings that ministers could lower standards in order to strike future trade deals.
TV chef Mr Oliver today lashed out at the stance taken by Ms Truss as he said without legal guarantees ministers could ‘sell us short’ during negotiations.
He warned that could result in ‘opening the floodgates to a whole raft of lower-quality food, much of which is illegal in the UK’.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss today rejected calls for the Government to enshrine all UK farming standards in law
TV chef Jamie Oliver has warned that failing to enshrine standards risks ‘opening the floodgates to a whole raft of lower-quality food’ being imported into the UK
The Government has faced sustained pressure to enshrine UK farming standards in law, with the Labour Party among the voices advocating such an approach.
But Ms Truss said it could result in a ‘blanket ban’ on any food products which do not comply exactly with British farming regulations.
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Truss asked Labour counterpart Emily Thornberry: ‘So is she saying she wants to ban Kenyans from exporting their products to us if they don’t follow exactly the same farm standards as here in Britain?
‘I want to make sure our farmers are able to continue with their high standards, but I don’t want to stop developing countries exporting their goods to us.’
The pair clashed during international trade questions as Ms Thornberry warned of the impact of the Government’s post-Brexit policy on British farmers.
The House of Lords last month amended the Agriculture Bill in a bid to block the import of foodstuffs produced abroad at lower animal welfare standards, amid warnings over chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef entering the UK market from the US.
The Government is expected to overturn the amendment in the Commons, and has consistently argued existing protections are already in place and they have no intention of watering them down.
Ms Thornberry earlier said: ‘If it is (Ms Truss’s) argument that we don’t need Labour’s amendments because bans on relevant imports are already enshrined in law, can she please tell us which law prevents the import of pork that has been produced on American farms that continue to use sow stalls?’
Ms Truss replied: ‘Well (Ms Thornberry) is of course talking about an animal welfare issue, and as I made very clear earlier on, we will not allow the high animal welfare standards of our pig producers to be undermined.’
Ms Thornberry countered: ‘There is no import ban against pork produced on farms using sow stalls because, as (Ms Truss) said, it’s an issue of animal welfare not one of food safety.
‘That means, if the Government drops tariffs on US pork, British pork farmers will be undercut by cheap imports from American agricultural companies using practices that have been banned in our country for the last 21 years.
‘So will the Secretary of State listen to reason and write into the law the protection of all UK farming standards against imports that don’t meet them?’
Ms Truss appeared to make a slip of the tongue and forget to say ‘not’ when she replied: ‘In any trade deal we strike, we will be taking into account our high standards to make sure our farmers are undermined.’
She added: ‘If (Ms Thornberry) is suggesting a blanket ban on any foodstuffs that do not comply exactly with British farm regulations, what she is talking about is preventing developing countries sending their foodstuffs to the United Kingdom.
‘She will understand that under MFN (most-favoured-nation) rules you have to apply the same standards to every country you’re dealing with.’
Writing in The Times, Mr Oliver said that without new legal guarantees on standards ‘the present law could be changed or dropped in a flash without a vote in parliament’.
He said:’This mechanism is common practice — we’ve seen standards being lowered as a sign of good faith before trade agreements are signed in many other countries.
‘The Government can pretty much do what it wants. As much as I love Only Fools and Horses, I don’t want a ministerial version of Del Boy — knowingly or unknowingly — selling us short when Britain has got so much to offer.’
Mr Oliver added: ‘The UK Government could be about to undermine all of the progress made to date by opening the floodgates to a whole raft of lower-quality food, much of which is illegal in the UK.’