A report produced by an independent London-based think-tank, ResPublica, has warned the UK government it should adopt a set of core standards relating to food, otherwise it runs the risk of local farmers being put out of business by cheap imports.
The work, sponsored by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), recommends a two-tiered approach to standards. Any food not meeting the top tier of “red line” standards would be banned from the UK.
Product that does meet these red lines would be allowed in, but only that which conforms to a second tier of “aspirational standards” would be given preferential access by way of low or zero tariffs.
These core production standards should be set by government in collaboration with industry and civil society partners, recommends the report.
It also points out that despite the UK essentially giving free access to beef, lamb and dairy imports from New Zealand and Australia in recent trade deals, there is nothing to stop the UK putting in place trade restrictions related to the likes of animal welfare standards.
When challenged about production standards, UK government ministers often respond with reassuring words about how there is no intention to lower requirements here.
That is called out in the ResPublica report, who argue that this will not stop lower standard imports undercutting UK farmers.
“In a worst-case scenario, we could have some of the highest farm standards in the world but no one producing to them,” states the report, which goes on to argue that this scenario is not as far-fetched as it might seem given what happened the pig sector in the 1990s.
At the time the use of sow stalls was banned in the UK, but not other EU countries.
It was expected that UK consumers would support the move by buying British pork.
Instead, EU imports rocketed, and the number of UK pig producers fell from 10,000 to 6,000 within 10 years.