Agriculture Bill Must Not Disadvantage Local Agri-Foods Sector, Says Committee

14 May 2020 02:35 PM

The Assembly’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee (AERA) has expressed its concern that the Agriculture Bill, which passed in the House of Commons yesterday, could have the potential to impact negatively on the agri-foods industry here.

The Committee had initially voiced concern, in its February 2020 report on the bill, about the potential for post brexit trade deals to result in the UK import of cheaper foods, produced to a lower standard. Members had noted that this could serve to undercut local farmers, making it more difficult for them to compete in the marketplace, and that it could ultimately pose a serious threat to the future of the industry as a whole.

The Committee Chairperson, Declan McAleer MLA said 

“The Committee had been supportive of a number of amendments to the bill, that food imported into the UK post brexit, would be produced to at least equivalent environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards. Unfortunately, none of these amendments were successful, and we believe that without this safeguard, our local agri-foods sector could be put at a severe competitive disadvantage in the future.

“The UK-EU withdrawal agreement, cemented the absolute necessity for our local agri-foods sector to continue to operate on an all island basis. Any divergence in terms of animal welfare and general food standards in the UK, could pose very serious difficulties to the sector here, in terms of working within the Protocol. This bill must serve to protect and benefit all farmers, producers and the consumer; we cannot be placed in a situation where, even if it is by default, our capacity to participate fairly in the marketplace is diminished. Our unique circumstances must be carefully considered within the context of the agreed Protocol.”

Mr McAleer continued: 

“While the Agriculture Bill has passed in the House of Commons, it has yet to be debated and agreed by the House of Lords before it becomes law. We will continue to do everything that we can as a committee, to advocate on behalf of the sector and to ensure that our particular circumstances here are fully appreciated and recognised.”

Mr McAleer concluded: 

“We quite rightly take pride in the fact that our agricultural foods are produced to the highest standards, and are acknowledged as being amongst the finest in the world. It is crucial, that in an uncertain post-brexit world, we are able to maintain this high level of quality for the consumer, whilst being provided with equal opportunity to trade and compete in a fair and equitable marketplace.”

The Committee also expressed disappointment that an amendment to provide a sunset clause for the Northern Ireland Provisions of the bill, which it had called for in its report, was also defeated.

Notes to Editor:

Further information on UK Government Agriculture Bill, which includes the Committee Report can accessed here:

Committee Membership.

Mr Declan McAleer MLA (Chairperson)

Mr Philip McGuigan MLA (Deputy Chairperson)

Ms Clare Bailey MLA

Mrs Rosemary Barton MLA

Mr John Blair MLA

Mr Maurice Bradley MLA

Mr Pat Catney MLA

Mr Harry Harvey MLA

Mr William Irwin MLA