POLITICIANS have clashed over the passing of the controversial agriculture bill in the House of Commons.
The landmark bill provides the legislative framework for replacing agricultural support schemes after leaving the EU and the Common Agricultural Policy which funds UK agriculture to the sum of £3.5bn annually.
It gives powers to implement new approaches to farm payments and land management. It is on target to pass through parliament by the summer.
It included an amendment tabled by Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, which sought to protect UK farmers from low-standard food imports.
The clause would have prevented future trade deals from allowing in food not produced to the standards required of UK farmers and processors.
It was defeated by 328 to 277 votes, a majority of 51, after failing to receive the support of the Conservative government.
Among those voting for it were 44 SNP MPs. Only 22 Conservatives supported it.
Ministers insist the issue of protecting food standards in post-Brexit trade deals will be dealt with in the trade bill.
David Mundell, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale MP, said he fully understood the intentions behind the proposed amendment but for it to have been passed would have been counter-productive in terms of vital future trade negotiations and arrangements.
He said: “The government remains committed to there being no reduction in standards for food coming into the UK.
“Ministers have pledged to keep import standards, which include banning chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef.
“It will not undermine the high domestic environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards by enshrining in any agreement that British farmers can always compete.”
He said the UK’s high standards strengthened the industry’s reputation on world markets and any agreements negotiated would include safeguards.
Analysis showed all agricultural sectors were expected to benefit from, for example, a successful US trade deal.
Colin Smyth, South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for the rural economy, described as “shameful” the actions of Conservative MPs.
He said Mr Mundell and Alister Jack (Dumfries and Galloway) had questions to answer.
“This amendment would have helped protect the Scottish food and farming sector from sub-standard imports and it is shameful it was voted down.
“Farmers don’t believe the government when it claims it will secure these standards in trade deals with countries, like the USA which will be desperate to flood supermarkets with food created under lower standards.
“Agriculture is a hugely-important sector in Dumfries and Galloway and we must ensure our farmers and the fantastic food they produce don’t suffer as a result of the reckless behaviour of these MPs.”
Jonnie Hall, NFUS director of policy, added: “While the passing of this landmark bill unamended was no surprise, it was deeply disappointing. “Encouragement can be taken from those MPs who argued so strongly for amendments and we’ll continue to press our case as part a 26-strong UK-wide alliance of agricultural, environmental, animal welfare and cons