Labour leader Keir Starmer paid a visit to the Wiltshire countryside yesterday (Thursday), dropping in on farmer Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers Union, to talk about agricultural issues.
During a visit to Mrs Batters' farm at Downton, near Salisbury, Sir Keir called on prime minister Boris Johnson to back British farmers over food standards.
The NFU is concerned that despite a 2019 manifesto commitment the government seems reluctant to protect the UK’s high standards in legislation, especially in post-Brexit trade talks with the United States.
Conservative MPs have until now voted down Labour’s attempts to use the Agriculture Bill or the Trade Bill to enshrine in law the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.
The next opportunity for change will come when the Agriculture Bill returns to the Commons on Monday (October 12).
“No one wants lower quality food on our plates, but unless the Prime Minister shows some leadership and backs British farmers there is a real risk this could happen,” said Sir Keir.
In a letter to the prime minister, he said: “I want our country to produce the best food in the world, where our farmers compete on the basis of quality and are not undermined by producers working to lower standards elsewhere.
"Britain should be a beacon of quality, high standards, ethical treatment of animals and environmental protections in all aspects of food production.”
Last month, Mrs Batters – the first woman to head the influential NFU in the organisation's 100-year history – said of the Agriculture Bill: "We are at a pivotal time for the future of farming and the food on our plates. Nothing will determine this more than how the government shapes trade deals with countries around the world.
“There is no doubt that the countries we are currently negotiating with are demanding access to our prized market for their agriculture products and, right now, a trade agreement could be signed with little parliamentary scrutiny.
"This could result in a massive increase in the amount of food being imported that is produced in ways that would be illegal in this country.
“Politicians have time and time again stated that they will not allow this to happen. There is now a clear solution on the table that will allow Parliament to be kept fully informed of the impacts any trade deal will have on the food we all consume.
"Time is running out. Action has to be taken now or all the warm words will be for nothing.