Farmers across the country have hit out at the government’s ongoing trade deals discussions.
The government announced a “historic” free trade deal with Australia yesterday which they said will “eliminate tariffs on all UK goods”.
But farmers think the deal is “opening the floodgates” for more similar deals, which they say will be bad for them as well as for consumers.
‘Worst food standards’
Liz Webster, who lives on a farm in Wiltshire with her husband, said most Brits don’t want to lower food standards, but that the government is keeping everyone “in the dark” whilst signing trade deals.
Webster, who set up the Save British Farming campaign group last year, told TLE: “Between nine in ten people are adamant they don’t want to lower standards.
“With the risk we have seen from coronavirus, it’s even more important to prevent more disease.”
She said Australia is one of the countries the government is signing trade deals with but which have the “worst standards”.
Animals are injected with antibiotics because they are kept in “filthy”environments, which leads to antibiotics resistance in humans, according to her. “If they [people] get an infection in a few years, it could get them killed.”
‘Good food for the rich’
Webster says the government wants to deliver a “green Britain” whilst importing “nasty food” from countries far away from Britain – which “defames the farming industry and British farmers’ values” according to her.
She said: “They are trying to blindfold the British public by using this environmentalism and then they are importing food which has been produced under very low standards and is not environmentally friendly.
“There will be some good farming but it will only be the rich who will be able to afford it. We will have to eat bad food.
“I don’t think they kept their promises before Brexit, they promised things to all men. It’s a huge betrayal.”
Andrew Brown, who farms grains in Rutland, East Midlands, labelled the Australia trade deal a “disaster”.
UK farmers to ‘pack up’
And he thinks all the countries the government is discussing trade deals with are “massive agricultural exporters”. “To have a free trade deal with them will completely undermine our farmers, because their costs are much lower,” he told TLE.
Brown thinks the only way in which UK farmers will be able to compete is by starting to mass produce – which could compromise current food standards as well as the government’s environmental plans.
He has just completed a big agricultural scheme and has applied to another one, which involves taking 50 per cent of his agriculture out.
“If that lost production is to be made up by taking the standards down, you are not shooting yourself in the foot, you are shooting yourself in the head,” he said.
He added: “They will get these [products imported into the UK] through the back door.
“We can’t go green when we are on red. They use drugs and chemicals which are not allowed in this country so we are not competing on a level playing field.”
In the next five to 10 years, there will be 50,000 farms less, he estimates: “The middle 50 per cent, the traditional family farms, will go.”
And although he has been farming for 30 years, he fears he may have to “pack up”.
Steve Elnor, who farms beef, cattle and sheep in Lincolnshire said UK farmers will not be able to compete because they have higher standards than Australia’s – which means higher costs.
He told TLE: “The only country benefitting from this trade deal is Australia. We may have cheaper food, but at the expense of the UK agriculture.
“It’s going to open the floodgates for countries which will say, ‘this is what you granted to Australia, we want the same’. They will all want to have a slice of the UK.”
He added: “They say they will not compromise on standards but I think they will wiggle that a bit, they will say people will get cheaper food, but you are not going to do that without lowering food standards.
“They have got something to change the hat with post-Brexit. This is not a trade deal born out of trade, this is born out of political necessity, they have got to say ‘hey, look what we have achieved’.”
A government spokesperson said: “This deal delivers for the UK and shows what we can achieve as a sovereign trading nation.
“It is a fundamentally liberalising agreement that removes tariffs on all British goods, opens new opportunities for our services providers and tech firms, and makes it easier for our people to travel and work together.
“A final Agreement in Principle will be published in the coming days with the full detail.”
The spokesperson said the government is not compromising on UK’s high animal welfare and food safety standards – and will not allow imports that do not meet those standards, including hormone-treated beef.
They added the government has negotiated a cap on tariff-free imports over a 15-year period, using “tariff rate quotas and other safeguards”.
The spokesperson also said future opportunities for UK farmers lie in Asia, which according to them has an increasing demand for beef and lamb, compared to European markets.