THE CONSERVATIVE Party used its Commons majority to ram through its Agriculture Bill on Monday, October 12.
Along the way, it voted down amendments which would have forced Boris Johnson’s government to uphold its manifesto promises on food production standards and animal welfare.
The Government’s actions, combined with its procedural manoeuvre to block an attempt to give a proposed trade watchdog teeth, have drawn universal condemnation from farming unions and organisations.
Fourteen Conservative MPs opposed the Government, including former DEFRA Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. Every Welsh Conservative MP voted against safeguarding farmingstandards.
The Wildlife Trusts of Wales and England described the vote as: “[T]he clearest signal yet that the Government do not intend to uphold their election manifesto commitment to maintain the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in trade negotiations.”
Phil Stocker of the NSA commented: “There is now the very real risk, despite Government’s assurances, that the UK’s standards that our nation’s farmers are proud to work to, could be undermined by lower standard imports.”
‘DISAPPOINTMENT AN UNDERSTATEMENT’
Speaking to The Herald after the vote, TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said: “To say that the events which took place in the House of Commons last night were a disappointment, would be a major understatement. For the Government to whip its MPs to vote against an amendment entirely in line with its own policy has created a breach of trust in believing its rhetoric around protecting our high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards in future international trade agreements.”
“It was also shocking that the Government used a procedural manoeuvre to deny MPs the opportunity of voting on a crucial House of Lords amendment that would have improved the operation of the newly appointed Trade and Agriculture Commission,” Mr Dunn told us.
He continued: “This was a shocking piece of political chicanery which prevented MPs from even debating this important piece of legislation. Over a million people signed a petition earlier in the year calling on the Government to ensure the strongest standards in trade and it is an issue for which there has been cross-party support. Expanding the role and remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission would not, as the Government claimed, tie its hands but merely ensure that its future trade policy had proper scrutiny and support from an expert panel.”
Mr Dunn concluded by drawing attention to the erosion of trust between the Conservative Government and the agriculture industry: “Day after day we hear Government Ministers declare that they will not jeopardise our high environmental, animal welfare and consumer safety standards in trade. Sadly, their words say one thing, but their actions say another. Unless we have strong legislation in this area, the fine words are just empty promises.”
‘WARM WORDS WON’T WASH’
Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards told this newspaper: “The Agriculture Bill was a missed opportunity to safeguard in law food product standards and in particular food production standards.
“Warm words from the British Government that they won’t allow Welsh farmers to be undercut by lower standard food in trade deals won’t wash.
“The fact that the British Government have gone out of their way to stop democratic accountability over trade deals does not fill me with confidence.
“Wales should have a veto over trade deals negotiated by the British Government in the same way that every single member of the European Union could veto trade deals negotiated by the EU.
“The reality is that the future of Welsh farming is in the hands of a British Government who I fear will be conceding access to food markets in order to gain concessions for London banks.”
NFU Cymru expressed dismay but vowed to continue lobbying for binding commitments to safeguard farming’s high standards in future trade deals
NFU Cymru Deputy President Aled Jones said: “It is a blow that the Grantchester amendment (on animal welfare) was not adopted by a majority of MPs, nor did MPs have the chance to vote on the Curry amendment (strengthening the Trade & Agriculture Commission). However, NFU Cymru remains steadfast in its belief that Welsh farmers must not be undermined by imported products produced to lower standards than those observed here in the UK.”
Adopting an upbeat approach which suggested NFU Cymru was prepared to take government promises and MPs’ words at face value, Mr Jones continued: “We were encouraged to hear so many MPs in last night’s debate expressing their support for those high standards – standards that consumers in this country have come to expect – and we thank those MPs who spoke up in favour of this important cause.
“This ongoing debate around food standards is matter of a huge importance for Britain’s farmers and Britain’s consumers, also. We simply cannot risk any trade scenario which could result in food imports coming into this country that would be illegal if produced here.”
Looking forward to the next stage of the Bill’s passage to the statute books, Aled Jones added: “With the Agriculture Bill set to return to the House of Lords, this gives peers another opportunity to put forward amendments that we hope will bring about the changes we want to see – UK farming’s high standards protected and enshrined in law, while also giving more power to the elbow of the Trade and Agriculture Commission.”
LACK OF COMMITMENT ‘SPEAKS VOLUMES’
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Llyr Gruffydd MS, told us: “Last night, Plaid Cymru supported amendments that would have protected food standards in future trade deals and strengthened parliamentary scrutiny of trade negotiations.
“Yet again, the Conservatives let down Welsh farmers when given the chance to protect their livelihoods. Despite all their promises and manifesto commitments, the Government defeated the amendments, exposing our farmers to cheap produce in future trade deals.
“Plaid Cymru will continue to put forward a positive vision for our food producers based on a greater say for our devolved governments and the protection of food standards. This is not because we not only believe them necessary now, but because they are fundamental to our farmers and food producers in the future.”
Lesley Griffiths, Wales’ Minister for Rural Affairs, said: “Although UK Ministers continue to insist they will maintain existing high standards of food safety and animal welfare in any new trade deals, their rejection of the opportunity to put this commitment into statute speaks volumes – especially given the fact that the amendments put forward by the Lords gave them a prime opportunity to do so.
“Food safety and welfare are devolved matters, and we have been clear that we would resist any clauses in the Internal Market Bill which would allow Westminster to start a race to the bottom in terms of standards – a move which would not just impact consumers, but also risk farm businesses across Wales as they face international competition from companies willing to forego the standards to which they adhere.”
Prominent farmer and TV presenter Gareth Wyn Jones tweeted: ‘Very disappointed this morning after last night’s government defeated amendments to the #AgricultureBill which would have protected our #food & #farming standards. Don’t forget they’ve not only sold the farming community out but the health of our nation. @BorisJohnson’
Conservation groups and environmental campaigners also expressed their concern at the government’s unwillingness to commit to anything more than warm sentiment over environmental standards and welfare measures.
The RSPB said: “The UK Government must now say how it will meet its manifesto commitment to maintain standards in future trade deals, as confidence in them to do so is now at a chronically low ebb.”
RSPCA Chief Executive Chris Sherwood also underlined the Government’s failure to put meat on its manifesto promise.
Chris Sherwood said: “The Government once again failed to make good their manifesto promise that they will not sell out the UK’s animal welfare for a quick trade deal. The vote shows a disregard for the British public, 83% of whom said they did not want lower standard imports coming in from the US when we leave the EU.”
Nature Friendly Farming Network UK Chair, Martin Lines, observed: “Despite manifesto commitments and repeated assurances from successive governments not to lessen standards in trade, the government has instead passed on one of the final opportunities to enshrine our high-quality environmental and animal welfare standards in law and to protect the UK farmingindustry.”
James Russell, BVA President, said: “This result is a severe blow for animal welfare and a betrayal of the Government’s own manifesto commitment to maintain and improve on health and welfare standards.
“We have long argued that the UK cannot commit to raising the bar domestically while allowing in goods that don’t meet the high standards that British consumers rightly want and expect.
“If the government won’t legislate to protect our standards it is vital that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is given more powers and stature to safeguard them in future trade deals.”
CLA President Mark Bridgeman sounded a warning note: “Government Ministers have successfully convinced MPs they can be trusted to protect food production standards without the need for legislation.
“Time and again Ministers have promised to protect British farmers from a flood of cheap imports produced to animal welfare and environmental standards far below our own.
“Farmers across the country will be watching Government’s every move very closely from hereon in.”
Ceredigion farmers left high and dry by lack of UK-NZ trade deal protections
PLAID CYMRU politicians have expressed significant concerns regarding the impact the new trade deal stuck between the UK and New Zealand will have on Ceredigion farmers.
The free trade agreement between New Zealand and the UK Government was signed on 28 February 2022 and is set to open the doors to a significant import of meat produce which could potentially hit the farming sector in Wales harder than in any other part of the UK.
NFU Cymru has recently raised concerns about the deal, stating that the potential negative cumulative impact of this cannot be overstated.
The New Zealand trade deal follows another similar deal with Australia, and while it offers significant upsides for farmers on the other side of the world, it potentially creates significant marketplace changes for Welsh farming.
Figures from the Farmers Union of Wales state the agreement could see the amount of beef that can be imported tariff-free from New Zealand rise immediately to 12,000 then gradually to 38,820 tonnes in ten years’ time. Further rises would occur in the subsequent five years, after which there would be no limit. A similar increase would also be seen in lamb, with the amount that could be imported tariff-free would increase by 35,000 tonnes per annum in years one to four, then by 50,000 tonnes per annum in years five to fifteen, after which there would be no limit.
Plaid Cymru’s Agriculture Spokesperson, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, has today (2 March, 2022) raised the issue as a matter of urgency with the Welsh Government in the Senedd.
Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “While the spin will be about benefits, the truth is that this trade deal is a real cause for concern for Welsh farmers.
“The agreement will provide a 15 year transitional period, and it states that they will only be able to ‘utilise new access to the UK sheep meat market once they have filled 90% of their existing World Trade Organization (WTO) quota’.
“However, this leaves Welsh farmers at the whim of a market whereby they have no control nor input. Should something change in the sheep meat market then New Zealand meat would suddenly end up here or in the EU and undermine Welsh farmers.
“By failing to ensure that there are tariffs on imports here the UK Government have left Welsh farmers completely open to the whims of a market which they have no say and no protection.
Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales added: “Let us be clear, this trade deal is a gross betrayal of Ceredigion farmers. The UK Government’s own analysis suggests that the number of people working in agriculture will be negatively impacted by this deal, whilst it also threatens to undermine the entire Welsh agriculture sector – which we know is far more susceptible to harm from a poor trade deal than other farmers in other parts of the UK.
As we face a climate emergency, importing more food from the other side of the world that could be produced sustainably here in Wales, does not make any sense whatsoever.
Clearly, efforts must now be taken at Westminster to ensure that the Welsh farming sector is safeguarded from the potential negative impact of this agreement.”
Total Dispersal of Hidden Gem Welsh Dairy Herd
HARRISON & HETHERINGTON have today announced that they will be the sale managers for the dispersal sale of 700 pedigree Holsteins from the impressive Clywedog herd.
The two-day sale will be held on behalf of Rhys and Huw Jones at Old Llwyn Onn Farm, Wrexham, on Thursday 24th and Friday 25th February.
Day one of the sale will comprise 320 milking animals and 180 heifer calves up to six months of age.
Day two will see 200 youngstock selling with in-calf, bulling and heifer calves down to six months of age. Notably, a large percentage of the herd and most of the in-calf heifers carry pregnancies by female sexed sires.
In the last two years Harrison & Hetherington have expanded their on-farm dispersal sales service across the UK and Ireland and Glyn Lucas, Senior Pedigree Dairy Auctioneer, is delighted that they have been invited to manage this special sale: “The Clywedog Pedigree Holstein herd is one of the UK’s best kept secrets. This complete dispersal sale offers the modern kind of cow that the modern milk producer appreciates.
“The cows are powerful and exhibit outstanding width of rump and chest, and are in excellent body condition. The production records on two times a day milking is impressive and the potential these cows have to increase on a three times a day or robotic management system is exciting. In addition, all of the animals going under the hammer have been tested for export.”
At the most recent milk recording in mid-January the herd averaged 41kgs at 4.42% butterfat and 3.31% protein with somatic cell count of 63. The herd has exceptional fertility with the current calving interval running at 378 days and the current days in milk is 134 days.
The latest classification saw 17 new Excellent cows, 39 new Very Good cows, 14 new Very Good milking heifers and 24 new Good Plus heifers. The sale will have a total of 41 Excellent, 141 Very Good and 138 Good Plus animals in the sale.
Herd health status is exemplary with IBR, BVD and Lepto protocols all managed in conjunction with farm vet, Rob George from Nantwich Farm Vets. Additionally, the herd has never had a case of TB and all animals are tested for export.
Giving further background, owner and breeder Rhys Jones said: “We established our pedigree herd in 1990 and have worked hard over the years to create high yielding, long-lasting herd of beautiful cows. Our mission has been to produce high type cows, and to that end we have selected the best genetics from Cogent and Semex. The stock is in excellent condition, they have been looked after with loving care and I know that the animals will go on to do very well.
“However, the time has come for Huw and I to ease off; I will soon be 64 and it’s time to hang up my hat. We would all like to thank everyone who has supported us over the years. We have taken great pride in producing a herd with long lasting cows and heifers and we will both get a lot of satisfaction in watching our breeding develop in herd around the UK.”
Harrison & Hetherington are renowned auctioneers, selling all classes of pedigree and commercial livestock and is one of the UK’s foremost auctioneers for Dairy Cattle. Being located in one of the largest milk producing areas in the UK, its weekly sales at Borderway, Carlisle, attract top quality dairy cattle and buyers.
Harrison & Hetherington are also the principal official society auctioneers to many breed societies and area clubs, and regularly hold dispersal or collective sales on site and on farms across mainland UK and Ireland.
Local MP backs Parliamentary inquiry into rural productivity
BEN LAKE will join MPs from across the political divide to identify opportunities to grow the rural economy
The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Rural Powerhouse is undertaking a comprehensive investigation into the health of the rural economy.
The inquiry started in May this year, taking evidence from rural businesses and representative bodies, as well as academics, government ministers and other experts. Oral evidence sessions have covered farming and land use, the planning system, access to skills, mobile and electrical connectivity as well as exploring how the tax regime could be used to encourage diversification and entrepreneurship in rural areas.
Ceredigion MP Ben Lake took part in the final evidence session today – which investigated the role of government structures and procedures, asking whether they hinder or help in delivering rural objectives.
Ben Lake MP told The Ceredigion Herald: “There are over 500,000 rural businesses across Wales and England – they are the backbone of the rural economy. Closing the productivity gap between rural and urban communities is essential to ‘levelling up’. If we want to see thriving rural communities, we must ensure everyone has the opportunity for a good job and a good home. This inquiry will help identify changes in government policy necessary to deliver that goal.”
Mark Tufnell, President of the Country Land and Business Association which represents 28,000 rural businesses in England and Wales, said: “Closing the rural productivity gap would add £43bn of gross value added (GVA) to the economy – creating hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs in communities everywhere. This would be on top of the £261bn the rural economy already contributes to the national economy.
“The reasons for the countryside’s lower productivity are complex but, thanks to this inquiry, we have gathered evidence that will be critical in determining what improvements should be made to ensure that levelling up the countryside really is at the heart of the government’s agenda.”
The APPG inquiry will publish its findings early in the new year.
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