By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council
Concerns around Parliament’s ability to scrutinise trade agreements in a post-Brexit UK will continue to remain at the forefront of the political debate. Members of the House of Lords sub-committee on International Agreements have written to the Government expressing the very concerns many Conservative backbench and opposition MPs have raised over the last few months. Attempts to resolve this were made by amendments to the Agriculture Bill, and the Trade Bill, that were later defeated by the Government.
The BEIC, alongside the British Poultry Council, National Pig Association and the National Farmer’s Union, as well as the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming, have been at the forefront of the campaign to empower MPs, so they hold Government to account and help inform post-Brexit trade and agricultural policy.
The BEIC welcomed the Government’s decision to establish the Trade and Agriculture Commission, but we have also been cautious. We have consistently said that we need to ensure our high environmental, animal welfare, and food safety standards are not compromised, and we were disappointed to learn that the animal welfare groups that we have worked with over the many months to raise these concerns, were not included in the make-up of the Commission.
We have always said that the Trade and Agriculture Commission must have its recommendations taken into serious consideration. Another thing we have said, along with the majority of the farming and agriculture community, is that a lifespan of six months is nowhere near good enough to truly help inform post-Brexit trade policy and represent the concerns of our sector or consumers. The Trade and Agriculture Commission will make recommendations on agricultural trade policy, animal welfare standards and export opportunities for British farmers and the food industry. There are many other factors to consider, however.
The Government needs to look at the how it negotiates and agrees trade deals through the prism of food self-sufficiency. Leaving the EU presents the agriculture industry with many challenges, but there are also opportunities for setting a benchmark for sustainable food production. How potential trade agreements may impact self-sufficiency should be as important a concern as animal welfare and food safety. The British egg industry is 89% self-sufficient in eggs and egg products. According to the latest data from the NFU, the UK was only 64% self-sufficient in food production in 2019, an increase of 2% on 2018, but down from 78% in 1984.
The British egg industry, as the UK’s greatest agricultural success story, could help the UK further develop it’s self-sufficiency, but not against the backdrop of a potential threat or low-or no animal welfare imports from countries that produce eggs and egg products with systems of production that would be illegal not only in the UK, but across the EU. We sincerely hope the Trade and Agriculture Commission take this into consideration when seeking evidence for its recommendations on Britain’s post-Brexit trading future, and we look forward to working with it on this and a range of issues.