Tom Lancaster, RSPB Head of UK Land and Seas Policy describes a crucial vote in the parliament on the future of food and farming standards ... 

A right royal bunfight has developed over British food and farming standards, and whether the UK Government is going to stand by them in future trade deal negotiations.

On Monday 12th October, MPs will vote on changes to the Agriculture Bill made by the House of Lords. These changes strengthened the bill and specifically introduced safeguards for British food, environmental, and animal welfare standards. The Government though is now intending to remove these changes, and by doing so the strong legal guarantees they provide to ensure that imports of food meet our standards.

You might ask; why does this matter for nature?

 We need farmers to do more for nature if it is to recover across our countryside. Changes to the way we farm over the last few decades, such as more pesticide use, have led to declines in wildlife. Farming though can be the solution too, as many farmers are already demonstrating. Small changes to make more space for nature can equally see a big and nearly immediate response from farmland birds such as skylarks, yellowhammers, and house sparrows, as well as a host of other species.

The Government is proposing to change the way that farmers receive public support so that more money goes into nature-friendly farming. This is a welcome and essential step for wildlife in this country.

But what payments farmers receive will not be the only thing that determines whether they are in a position to help revive our world. They will need to be confident that the market will also reward high standards for food too. And a key part of this is the rules and regulations that food has to be produced to if it is to be sold in England and the rest of the UK.

The changes made to the Agriculture Bill by the House of Lords would help inspire this confidence, by assuring farmers that they would not have to compete with imported food, produced to standards that would be illegal if used here. For example, and as this report from our partners at Sustain and the Pesticides Action Network shows, countries such as the US and Australia allow pesticides banned in the UK to be used, and levels of those pesticides to be left on food far above what would currently be acceptable in the UK.

Without these legal guarantees in place, the UK would be under huge pressure to compromise on these standards in order to sign trade deals with these countries. This risks a race to the bottom on environmental standards when what we need now is a race to the top.

So if you’re reading this before the afternoon of Monday 12th October, contact your MP to make it clear that you want them to vote in favour of the changes made by the House of Lords. The trade amendments are amendments 12, 16, and 18. Or take this simple e-action instead.

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