Sir, – There is a clarity in the air just now, even in town, that I can’t remember seeing since my youth.

The views to Scotland’s skylines have a crisp, clear definition, no planes or vapour trails in the sky, no exhaust clouds on the roads and the air tastes fresher and cleaner than ever.

Covid-19 has been a deadly killer, forcing us indoors, slowing us down and dampening our consumerism, leading to this rapid positive environmental change. If there is any positives to look for in the face of this deadly pandemic, perhaps it’s the slower pace, giving us time to count our blessings, cleaner air and water, and an appreciation of the really important things in life.

People are changing because nature has forced us to. We have changed how we shop, how we interact with each other, how we acknowledge our neighbours and grow community spirit, how we appreciate the value of the real 'key worker', and families spending time cooking and eating together.

These are blessings not to be dismissed or forgotten once this deadly outbreak is under some sort of control.

Farming families right across Scotland have, to a great extent, been totally unfazed by the outbreak as lambing, calving and spring sowing pretty much isolates farming communities at this time of year anyway.

It was always so, as farmers work to produce the food that we have taken for granted, until recently. Maybe not so much now that Covid-19 has exposed the fragility of just-in-time global supply chains.

This crisis also brought the other side of human nature, the stockpiling of loo roll and paracetamol was as unnecessary, as it was predictable.

But food shortages are different. Food is a daily necessity. That sounds like a ridiculously simplistic thing to say, but we’re all guilty of assuming we can buy whatever we want or need – until it’s not available.

We’ve all just had a very small insight into what shortages look like and we have not liked it. That’s something we really need to remember.

Domestic food production is a vital part of any society and it is a Government’s fundamental duty to protect its citizens from harm, hunger, thirst and homelessness.

Which begs the question, why did the Tory government single handedly vote down an amendment in the new UK Agriculture Bill that would have stopped lower standard foods being imported into this country?

Conservative MP Neil Parish, chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, tabled an amendment to the bill, calling for a ban on foodstuffs being imported that don’t meet the same rigorous welfare and safety standards implemented in this country.

The perception that the amendment's sole function was to protect farmers incomes and to an extent that’s correct, but safe, quality, sustainably-produced food, which enhances our environment, is something we all benefit from.

There are many strands to this issue and the law of unintended consequences will quickly come into play if we play fast and loose with our food and farming industry.

There is no such thing as cheap food. If it doesn’t cost much money, its hidden costs are usually far greater in terms of welfare or environmental factors.

More seriously, our own health can be jeopardised by the kind of food we eat. We can choose to be blind to the realities of cheap food, but we cannot ignore the impact our decisions have on our entire way of life.

A recent report in the Washington Post told of mass staff shortages in processing facilities and slaughterhouses in the US caused by corona virus. That shortage led to fewer production facilities working at capacity, which in turn caused disruption in the supply chain and price hikes for their domestic market.

Tragically, it also pointed to the massive backlog of stock to be slaughtered, particularly chickens and pigs. US producers couldn’t afford to keep feeding these animals so made the decision to 'depopulate' them. That means mass slaughter and burial of an unwanted product.

“For poultry and pigs, they allow animals to be killed by simply shutting off the ventilation system fans (heat or carbon dioxide may be added). The animals die of hyperthermia, baking and suffocating over a period of several hours," the report stated.

"The industry generally uses the ventilator shutdown method or a water-based foam, the consistency of firefighting foam, that flows up and over, suffocating birds in seven to 15 minutes.”

I’m guessing that most people in this country will find that brutal system utterly abhorrent, but it should be remembered that it is the US that the Tory government is currently negotiating a comprehensive trade deal with.

Food and agri produce are very high on the agenda for Washington. They want access to our markets. They want no PGI or food labelling restrictions and they don’t want tariffs.

The Tory refusal to accept Neil Parish’s New Clause 2 amendment has just made these US aims a lot easier and when you combine that with the report in this weeks FT, that Liz Truss is set to lower tariffs on US agricultural produce, it’s very easy to see the direction of travel that this Tory government is taking.

People may find protecting farmers incomes is not one of their personal priorities, but it should be remembered that, without farmers, there is no domestic food supply.

That then makes us reliant on imports from countries with far lower welfare and safety standards than we currently enjoy. But, even more importantly, even mass production systems can hit crisis times and create food shortages, as is currently happening in the US.

If there are domestic shortages in these countries, what happens to the price of imports, supposing we were able to secure any at all?

Given that we have a top quality industry already in place which supports our nation’s food security, allowing it to be destroyed by Tory ideology and American imports makes absolutely no sense at all.

From a Scottish perspective, we have seven Tory MPs, six of whom have rural populations of varying sizes – David Mundell actually has the biggest rural constituency in the UK – but every one of them voted against the amendment to protect our food standards.

That, by anybody’s reckoning, is a dereliction of duty to the constituents that they represent, both in terms of farming families and consumers.

Every constituent, regardless of political allegiance, should be demanding answers from their Tory MPs who voted the amendment down and those Lib Dems and Labour MPs who couldn’t be bothered to vote at all.

There were 22 rural constituency MPs in England who voted against the Government, clearly believing that Boris Johnson’s pre-election promises of maintaining food and environmental standards must be fulfilled. If English Tory MPs can work for their constituents interests, why can’t the Scottish ones?

If these trade deals are allowed to continue on their current trajectory, it’s unlikely that many of the high quality and welfare standards that we take for granted, will be viable.

Farmers here will have to adopt far lower standards, or go out of business, and if that happens, ultimately it is us who pay the price.

I’m not sure it’s a price worth paying just to let six Tory MPs toe the party line in Westminster.

Jim Fairlie