West Country MP Luke Pollard has today warned about the threat to British farmers, after reports of a new zero-tariff trade deal with Australia could put many small family farms out of business. The risk seems especially acute for beef and sheep farmers.
The Government is set to open the door to a zero-tariff trade deal with Australia, that would cause a sharp rise in cheaply imported beef, lamb and sugar. There are worries that because of the UK’s high food and animal welfare standards, small family farms in Britain will be unable to compete with the mass-production using methods that would be illegal for British farmers to use.
Australia is the world’s second biggest exporter of beef in the world. The scale of its export operation alone is more than double the total output of the UK’s beef sector. The average size of a beef cattle herd in England is 27 animals. Most Australian beef farms have capacity for over 10,000 cows. These vast factories, not constrained by a fraction of the UK’s animal welfare laws, risk pushing our small family farms out of business.
Experts have also called into question the carbon cost of importing food from thousands of miles away, rather than focussing on domestic growth.
The National Farmers’ Union has warned it will “cause the demise of many, many beef and sheep farms throughout the UK.”
Working with the NFU, Labour helped win concessions from Ministers in the recent Agriculture Bill, to protect British farmers from trade deals that allow food produced to lower standards that would undercut our farmers into Britain. But the Agriculture Bill contains a loophole that means any trade deal signed this year won’t have these provisions applied to it.
Luke Pollard, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, said:
“The Tories have betrayed our local fishing industry and now it looks like they might do the same to British farmers as well. Any free trade deal with Australia could seriously threaten the livelihoods of our small family farmers in the South West.
“I am backing our South West farmers and I hope the Government does the same. Ministers have made big promises to farmers over Brexit, and this is their first true test. Will they back our farmers or will they break their promises – just as they did to our fishing industry.”