WESTMINSTER MPs have been accused of firing the starting gun in a race to the bottom in food standards by blocking attempts to prevent low-quality produce flooding into the UK and undercutting British producers.

An amendment to the Agriculture Bill – which would have enshrined current domestic standards into legislation – was brought forward by the Lords to the House of Commons on Monday, (October 12), but was rejected by 332 votes to 279, causing an uproar of protest from the agricultural industry.

Another blow was dealt when MPs weren’t given the chance to vote to strengthen the powers of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which would have ensured proper governance and scrutiny of future trade deals.

NFU Scotland commented: “Farmers, crofters and growers in Scotland must be enabled by current and future governments to reach a thriving export market in a manner which builds on our existing, world-leading standards of production.

“This ambition goes hand-in-glove with the UK Government’s own manifesto commitment not to compromise the UK’s standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. For this reason, NFU Scotland and the vast majority of our members are bitterly disappointed that the amendment was not supported.”

The British Veterinary Association accused the UK Government of betraying its own manifesto commitment on health and welfare standards: “After such a strong show of support in the Lords, it is bitterly disappointing that the majority of MPs have chosen to ignore the groundswell of public and professional feeling and have voted against a clause that would have safeguarded our own renowned standards and offered crucial protections to the reputation and livelihood of the UK’s farming industry,” said its president, James Russell.

Consumer trust in British produce must not be jeopardised, stressed NSA Scotland chair, Jen Craig: “We should not allow this vote to undermine what we do in the UK. We will continue to be world leaders in animal health and welfare whilst producing food to the highest of standards.

“This allows our consumers to have the utmost trust and confidence that when they buy Scottish and British food, they can have pride in knowing where it has come from and that it is safe.”

The SNP’s shadow Defra secretary, Deidre Brock MP, argued that ‘Scotland’s voice and vote had been ignored’

“Rather than heeding warnings from dozens of organisations in Scotland representing farmers, consumers, health experts, food producers and charities, the Tories ploughed ahead with their reckless plans that could see our high standards being watered down to facilitate trade deals – threatening to undermine businesses.

“Agriculture is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and any attempt to impose lower standards would be nothing short of an undemocratic power grab – with any notion of this union being a partnership of equals being shattered beyond repair.”

Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, took a stand against his party colleagues: “As a former farm worker myself, I chose to support this additional wording to provide a firm, definitive assurance to every farmer across Scotland and the UK.

“The Conservative manifesto pledged to protect these standards, but I felt adding this clause would have provided further reassurance that our producers world beating standards would not be compromised.

“I know colleagues who voted for this amendment and those who voted against it all share a determination to maintain and enhance our standards for food production and animal welfare.”