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WWF - UK’s shift to sustainable farming at risk if government does not learn lessons from UK-Australia trade deal

A coalition of organisations including WWF, Compassion in World Farming, Greener UK, RSPCA, Sustain and Which? has condemned the UK Government’s failure to safeguard environmental protections, food safety and animal welfare standards in the UK-Australia trade deal, warning that UK standards will be eroded over time if lessons are not learned from the negotiations.  

Despite the Government’s objective of “not compromising on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards”, the analysis - Safeguarding the UK’s food and farming standards in trade: lessons from the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement -  published yesterday shows that the trade deal, signed late last year, contains “no safeguards” for environmental protections or animal welfare, and will:  

  • increase the impact of UK consumption on important habitats overseas
  • expand the supply of meat produced to lower animal welfare standards 
  • raise the risk of UK food standards and food safety being lowered over time 

According to the analysis, the zero-quota, zero-tariff deal agreed with Australia will also increase UK farmers exposure to “unfair competition with outdated, cruel, and unsustainable farming practices the UK has already moved away from”. 

As the UK rushes to agree new trade deals, including the agreement recently signed with New Zealand, the coalition has said that the UK must learn lessons from the Australia trade deal and has called for ministers to strengthen UK domestic laws with new core standards – including environmental and animal welfare standards – for the food and farming sectors. These would flank all existing and future trade deals, mitigating the risk of UK farmers producing food to higher welfare and environmental standards being undercut by products produced to a lower standard, and ensuring UK demand does not drive the expansion of poor farming practices overseas, which fuel the climate and nature crisis.  

It would also reduce the likelihood of the UK - a newly independent trading nation - ending up with “a patchwork approach to food and farming standards” as it seeks to negotiate new trade agreements with CPTPP, India, Canada, the USA, and Brazil as part of the Mercosur agreement.  

Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, said:

“With the right policies in place,  UK trade could incentivise best-in-class, sustainable food production at home and abroad.  By contrast, allowing our trade deal with Australia, a laggard on climate and nature, to be a blueprint for future trade deals would be a backward step for the environment. When we do our weekly shop we shouldn’t be presented with products that have contributed to destroying the environment and driving up global temperatures.

“The UK could raise the bar now by setting national core standards, including environmental standards, for all foods sold here. That’s the way to ensure our global trade helps to accelerate the shift to safer, more sustainable food production and cuts our impact on precious landscapes elsewhere in the world. And setting those standards would also show that the UK Government is serious about delivering on its climate and nature promises.”

Philip Lymbery, Global Chief Executive, Compassion in World Farming, said: 

“We are concerned that the deal the UK has struck will act as a trojan horse that allows future free trade agreements to permit the tariff-free import of low quality goods, and further undermining the UK’s animal welfare standards. The Government has repeatedly stated that imports will be required to meet food safety standards, and the Government must honour that manifesto commitment to ‘not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards’.  

“No trade deal should come at the expense of the UK’s higher animal welfare, food or environmental standards or risk undermining the UK’s higher welfare pasture-based farmers. We urge the UK Government to take on board the recommendations in this report, and learn from the Australia negotiations to ensure similar concessions aren’t made in future. We call on the UK Government to introduce a set of core standards that would need to be met in order for any imports of meat, eggs or dairy to be granted tariff- or quota-free access to the UK market.” 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection and Food Policy at Which?, said:

“Which?'s research is clear - people expect the government to maintain food standards and promote environmental protection as part of trade negotiations.

“A recent Which? survey found that nine in 10 UK consumers think the same food safety standards should apply to imported and domestic food. More than eight in 10 believe this should also be the case for animal welfare standards for imported foods, and environmental standards in food production.

“The Australia trade deal will set an important precedent for future negotiations and risks undermining efforts to make the UK's food system healthier and more sustainable. The government must honour its commitment to uphold the UK’s high food standards for imported foods in both the short and longer-term - and deliver on the issues consumers care about.”

Chris Sherwood, Chief Executive at the RSPCA, said: 

“We have serious concerns about a free trade deal with Australia and the impact this could have on animal welfare, UK farmers’ livelihoods, and our strides in tackling climate change.

“This sets a concerning precedent now that we are embarking on deals with other countries, all of whom have lower animal welfare standards than we do here. This could mean products being imported and ending up on our shelves which have been produced under what would be illegal standards in the UK.

“The Government recently pledged to improve the lives of farm animals by financially rewarding farming to higher welfare standards, but all of this could be undermined by this deal and future agreements with other countries. There is a real risk that our standards are being sold out for the sake of quick trade deals. We urge the Government to protect our standards and maintain our status as global leaders on animal welfare.”

Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive of Sustain said: 

“Public opinion polls show time and again that regardless of the trading partner, the UK public puts food standards in trade deals as one of its top concerns. The Government issues reassuring words, but in its deeds appears to be undermining those standards. 

 “This zero tariff, zero quota deal with Australia has been signed without putting in place the core standards recommended by the Trade and Agriculture Commission, the Climate Change Committee and the National Food Strategy. As this deal approaches ratification and the public realise there is little or nothing they can do to stop it, the Government will need to explain why it has ignored public opinion on food standards. Given the current crises in global supply chains the Government should be supporting UK farmers to produce food in a way that restores nature and addresses climate change. Australia has a lamentable record on tackling climate change – and encouraging them to supply us more food risks increasing production there, and making a bad situation worse. 

“The parliamentary trade committees are already complaining that the Government is failing to honour its commitments on free trade agreement scrutiny. It is hard to see how the public can have full confidence in how the Government has approached these deals.”

Original article link: https://www.wwf.org.uk/press-release/uks-shift-sustainable-farming-risk

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