FARMING organisations were disappointed that crucial amendments to the Agriculture Bill were unsuccessful at its Report Stage in the House of Commons last week.

In particular, an amendment tabled by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chairman Neil Parish for the bill to only allow the importation of agricultural goods if the standards are as high or higher than UK standards for animal welfare, environmental protection, food safety, hygiene and traceability was defeated.

The Agriculture Bill is the most important piece of legislation to come before Parliament for UK farming for many decades. It sets out how farmers and land managers in England will in the future be rewarded with public money for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, higher animal welfare standards, improved access to the countryside or measures to reduce flooding.

This will replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments, which pays farmers for the total amount of land farmed, skewing payments towards the largest landowners rather than those farmers delivering specific public benefits.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: "We will move away from the EU’s bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy and towards a fairer system, which rewards our hard-working farmers for delivering public goods, celebrating their world-leading environmental work and innovative, modern approach to food production."

The NFU has campaigned to strengthen the Agriculture Bill since it was first introduced into Parliament in September 2018 by ensuring the production of high quality, safe, climate friendly food is at its heart. In particular, the NFU tabled amendments that would stop sub-standard food being imported into this country in any future trade deals.

The NFU was looking for support on five key issues: strong provisions on food security; safeguarding the UK's high standards; resilience and stability in food production; support for the production of food; and the Bill should focus on agriculture.

NFU director of EU Exit and International Trade Nick von Westenholz said: “Despite manifesto commitments and frequent warm words from the Government, it is disappointing that they did not take the opportunity to legislate that they will not allow the imports of food that would be illegal for our farmers to produce here.

"We have seen clearly in the past few days the strength of feeling among farmers, MPs and politicians on this issue and as the Bill now moves to the House of Lords we will continue our work to ensure British farming standards are not undercut by future trade deals.”

The president of the Country Land and Business Association Mark Bridgeman said: “It is deeply frustrating that calls to delay the start of the transition from direct payments has been ignored by the UK Government.

“It’s crucial, more than ever, that farming businesses are given the right information so they can plan for the future and adapt to the new system.

“The Environmental Land Management Scheme has the potential to be a world leading land management policy and it deserves to succeed – but if the transition starts before the details are fully understood then it puts farmers in a very difficult position. Government should publish full details of how the new schemes will work in practice and how we will transition, as soon as possible.”

“We’re also disappointed that the trade amendments didn’t pass.”

“It was notable that a wide coalition of farming organisations and environmentalists came together to make our concerns known. We hope the Lords will allow for more time to closely scrutinise the risks to food production in this country of not having a level playing field with international competitors in the next stage of the Bill.”

“We owe it to British consumers to ensure that any food that we import under any potential trade deals meet the same high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection as is expected of UK food producers. Importing food produced to low animal welfare and environmental standards to undercut UK farmers is unacceptable.”

The Bill progresses to the House of Lords over the coming weeks.