A deep split has opened up in the Government over a trade deal with Donald Trump, with the Cabinet Minister in charge of negotiations accused of planning to turn Britain into a ‘pariah state’ by allowing the import of cheap foods pumped with antibiotics and hormones.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has clashed with Environment Secretary George Eustice, who fears that Ms Truss is preparing to ditch the UK’s animal welfare and environmental standards in order to strike a deal with the White House after Britain’s transition period with the EU ends in December.
Mr Eustice is understood to be concerned that flooding the UK market with cheap American products could drive many British farmers out of business – but Ms Truss insists that she has no intention of lowering standards.
The row comes amid growing Tory concern over the Agriculture Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, because it does not set any environmental or welfare rules for farm imports after Brexit at the end of the year.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss (pictured) has clashed with Environment Secretary George Eustice, who fears that Ms Truss is preparing to ditch the UK’s animal welfare and environmental standards
The Bill, which cleared the Commons earlier this month, is expected to become law within the next 60 days as the Government tries to rush it on to the statute book before the summer recess. An attempt by MPs to amend the Bill to stop the dumping of cheap, sub-standard products on UK markets was defeated by 328 votes to 277 – despite 22 Conservative MPs supporting the amendment.
Last night Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, said that unless the Bill was amended, Ministers would not be obliged to block imports such as chlorinated chicken or beef injected with hormones.
She said: ‘Brexit was meant to be about the creation of a bigger, better Britain, not turning us into a pariah state with no consideration for animal welfare.
‘We could have only 60 days to save our family farmers’.
The way the Bill is framed also means that environmental subsidies could be paid to landowners, even if they do not use their land for farming. Current EU rules stipulate that the handouts can only be given if the land is used for agriculture or livestock.
Mr Eustice is understood to be concerned that flooding the UK market with cheap American products could drive many British farmers out of business
Tory rebels believe Ms Truss, backed by senior figures on the free-trade wing of the party, such as former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and former Trade Secretary Liam Fox, is happy to lower standards in a rush to strike a deal before the US presidential election in November.
The rebels also point to the sacking of Theresa Villiers as Environment Secretary earlier this year after she had been engaged in a long-running private battle with Ms Truss over whether US foodstuffs should be allowed into the UK. An ally of Ms Villiers said: ‘Liz certainly strongly believes that the Americans are unlikely to accept any trade deal which doesn’t include complete liberalisation of trade in food.’
The source added that until earlier this year, Ms Villiers thought that Boris Johnson had supported her on this against the ‘full liberalisation’ tendencies of Ms Truss.
The ally said: ‘Liz had been in dispute with Theresa more or less from the time Theresa was appointed, with Liz pressing for liberalisation and Theresa saying hold on, we need to make sure we safeguard our standards.
The new Agriculture Bill does not set any environmental or welfare rules for farm imports after Brexit at the end of the year
‘Theresa thought she had No 10 on her side, especially after the strong words that went in the Tory manifesto on this subject.
‘Then suddenly, the PM made a speech on trade which mentioned Liz four times. That was followed up by a difficult meeting about what we were going to allow our negotiators to put on the table with the Americans.
‘Theresa felt at the end of it that perhaps Liz had won the argument with the PM.’
Ms Villiers was unavailable for comment. Sources say her concerns over the need for Britain to maintain ‘food security’ have only increased since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Tory MP Simon Hoare said Ms Truss ‘should actually spend her time going out and dealing with a trade deal that has equivalence’
Tory MP Simon Hoare, one of the 22 rebels, said: ‘I would say quite clearly to the Secretary of State for Trade [Ms Truss] that she should actually spend her time going out and dealing with a trade deal that has equivalence and makes sure we actually export our very important animal and environmental welfare.
‘And I’d say to the Americans, why don’t you upgrade your production? Why don’t you reduce the density of population of your chicken? Why don’t you reduce the amount of antibiotics you’re using and then you can actually produce better chicken not only for America, it can also come into this country.
‘Let’s not be frightened of putting clauses into this Bill that protect the great environment and welfare that the whole Bill wants to have and farmers want to have’.
A Government spokesman said: ‘The UK is renowned for its high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards.
‘And we will safeguard our agriculture sector – we’ve just announced a policy which maintains tariffs on key agricultural products such as lamb, beef, and poultry.
‘We have been clear that in all of our trade negotiations – including with the US in our first round of negotiations – that we will not undermine our high domestic environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards, by ensuring that in any agreement British farmers are always able to compete.’
Minister from six generations of farmers George Eustice vs tough-minded free marketeer Liz Truss
By Glen Owen, Political Editor for the Mail on Sunday
The differences between Liz Truss and George Eustice are not confined to disagreements over international trade and the limits to the free market.
While Ms Truss went to a Leeds comprehensive school and joined her parents on CND marches as a child, privately educated Mr Eustice grew up on his parents’ fruit farm and spent nine years running the business before entering politics.
As the sixth generation of his family to farm the West Country fields, the affable 48-year-old Minister boasts a rare personal understanding of the difficulties of earning a living from the land.
Polls show we want high food standards
Ministers face a fierce public backlash if they allow US chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef to be sold on Britain’s supermarket shelves.
An overwhelming 93 per cent of Britons want our high food standards to be protected in post-Brexit trade deals, according to polling commissioned by Which?
One survey found that 80 per cent of the more than 2,000 adults quizzed would not be comfortable eating beef that had been reared using growth hormones.
Another poll of 2,399 Britons found 68 per cent were not happy about eating chicken washed with chlorine.
In a separate online survey by the consumer watchdog involving 21 adults, every participant believed that maintaining or improving food standards should be a ‘post-Brexit priority’. ‘Our biggest opportunity when we leave the EU is to introduce the most stringent food safety and standards in the whole world,’ one 53-year-old man from South West England told Which? researchers.
The US Department of Agriculture has dismissed concerns over food safety standards as ‘unfounded’.
Ms Truss has a more hard-headed reputation than her fellow Cabinet member. As one colleague says: ‘Even when she flirts – which is often – there is a certain flintiness there.’ The International Trade Secretary has been on a political journey since her Left-wing childhood as the ‘bossy’ sister of three younger brothers, born to a maths professor and a former nurse.
It was while reading philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford that Ms Truss ‘transitioned’ from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives, explaining later: ‘I met Tories and I realised that they didn’t have two heads and were actually good people.’
Ms Truss married accountant Hugh O’Leary after they met at the 1997 Tory Party conference and she invited him to go ice skating.
The couple, who have two children, endured a rocky patch in 2009 as she was seeking selection for her South West Norfolk seat. Several members of her constituency association claimed she had withheld information about an affair she had had with Tory MP Mark Field five years earlier, which led to the end of Mr Field’s marriage.
After a motion by the so-called local ‘turnip Taliban’ to stop her selection was defeated, she rose quickly through the ranks of David Cameron’s party – despite what she describes as frequent, patronising ‘mansplaining’ by male colleagues – to become Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the first female Lord Chancellor.
The 44-year-old abandoned a planned tilt at the leadership after Theresa May’s defenestration, and was rewarded by Boris Johnson with her current responsibility for striking post-Brexit trade deals.
She also holds the post of Equalities Minister, a brief which includes responsibility for the incendiary issue of transgender rights: Ms Truss has angered activists by making clear her opposition to liberalising the rules to allow biological males who identify as women to use female facilities such as lavatories.
As the founder of the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative MPs, she is strongly aligned with the free-marketeer wing of the party, which her critics say has blinded her to the damage that a US trade deal could wreak on the British farming industry.
Mr Eustice started his post-farming political career 20 years ago as the campaign director for the anti-euro ‘No’ campaign
Mr Eustice started his post-farming political career 20 years ago as the campaign director for the anti-euro ‘No’ campaign, before going on to become head of press for Michael Howard and David Cameron. He squeaked into his Camborne and Redruth seat in Cornwall in 2010 with a majority of just 66 votes, and was made an Environment Minister in 2013.
His long stint in the department was broken only by his resignation in February last year in protest at Theresa May’s promise to allow MPs a vote on delaying Brexit.
The politician, who actively campaigned to leave the EU, was restored by Mr Johnson to the department in February this year as the Secretary of State, replacing Theresa Villiers.
Ms Truss has a more hard-headed reputation than her fellow Cabinet member
Mr Eustice, who has a daughter with wife Katy, a former journalist, splits his time between homes in West London and Cornwall, where he once represented the county’s cross-country team.
During his brief spell on the backbenches, 48-year-old Mr Eustice made clear in an article for the Guardian that he had clear ‘red lines’ for a US trade deal, criticising Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to Britain, for urging the UK to drop its opposition to American farming practices such as the use of hormones in beef and chlorine washes for chicken.
Describing US agriculture as ‘quite backward in many respects’, the Minister said: ‘It retains a position of resisting more information on labels to limit consumer knowledge and engagement. Its livestock sectors often suffer from poor husbandry, which leads to more prevalence of disease and a greater reliance on antibiotics.’
And Mr Eustice warned: ‘If Americans want to be granted privileged access to the UK market, they will have to learn to abide by British law and British standards, or kiss goodbye to any trade deal and join the back of the queue.’
Q&A on looming threat to our way of life
How does the EU subsidise UK farmers at the moment?
Since 1972, our farmers have relied on subsidies distributed through the EU’s much-derided Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Under it, UK farmers are paid around £3 billion a year – with the average basic payment worth £22,700 per farm. However, this subsidy will be phased out in England from next year (and 2024 in Scotland and Wales) as part of a post-Brexit agricultural revolution.
How will the Agriculture Bill change that?
It introduces the concept of ‘public money for public goods’ into farming for the first time.
Landowners will receive cash to enhance the environment, such as planting trees. They will be expected to sign so-called environmental land management contracts detailing their commitments to issues including flood management and improving public access.
But the Bill has been criticised by some farmers for being too ‘green-focused’ and for failing to support food production.
Who will be the winners?
Super-rich landowners could receive thousands of pounds in taxpayer support without growing a single carrot. Details of the new environmental contracts remain vague and the system could prove fiendishly complicated and open to abuse. How, for example, will the protection of a peat bog be rewarded compared to planting a hedgerow or maintaining a footpath?
Who will be the losers?
For many smaller family-owned farms, the annual EU subsidy is all that keeps them from insolvency. The National Farmers’ Union estimates about 40 per cent of UK farms would make an annual loss if the payments are taken away.
Payments are being cut by between 5 and 25 per cent next year before the new system has even been introduced.
What is the concern about imports from US mega-farms?
America stands accused of having much lower animal welfare and environmental standards. It is feared a flood of cheap food from US mega-farms would undercut British farmers and result in lower standards here.
Despite a Tory pledge not to compromise our high food standards, a backbench bid to enshrine this into law was defeated earlier this month. The US continues to insist agricultural goods are included in any free trade agreement.
What are the UK’s animal welfare rules?
Britain boasts world-leading welfare standards, with detailed rules governing issues such as transport and slaughter. The UK has banned battery cages for hens since 2012 and so-called sow stalls since 1999. Since 1997, animals have been recognised under EU law as sentient beings – which means it is acknowledged they are able to feel pain and suffer.
How do US animal welfare standards compare?
There is no federal US legislation governing the welfare of animals while they are on the farm, and only weak and patchy regulations at state level.
The rules governing slaughter are much less detailed – and do not exist at all for poultry. Only ten states have banned sow stalls. There is also a general resistance to acknowledging sentience in farm animals.
How are UK and US food production rules different?
Chicken in the US is washed in chlorine to remove harmful bacteria – a practice banned in the EU in 1997 over fears it allows poor hygiene standards in the production process.
Hormones given to pigs, sheep and cattle on US mega-farms to boost their growth rates or milk production are banned in the EU and other countries.
And the use of antibiotics in US cattle is far higher than in the UK, despite fears by experts the treatments will spread deadly drug-resistant illnesses.
I voted Conservative but MPs have really kicked UK farmers in the teeth
By Mark Hookham for the Mail on Sunday
Farmers feel ‘hugely betrayed’ by the Tory Party after a bid to protect Britain from low-standard food imports was torpedoed, an award-winning farmer said last night.
Andrew Ward, who has 1,600 acres of arable land in Lincolnshire, claimed Conservative MPs had kicked farmers in the teeth after they failed to agree a legal protection that would stop food being sold here that was produced abroad using lower safety or animal welfare standards.
The Conservatives had pledged in last year’s Election manifesto: ‘In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.’
Andrew Ward, who has 1,600 acres of arable land in Lincolnshire, claimed Conservative MPs had kicked farmers in the teeth
Earlier this month, senior Tory MP Neil Parish tabled an amendment to the Government’s landmark Agriculture Bill which would have prevented future trade deals from allowing food into the UK not produced to the equivalent standards required of farmers and processors here. But it was defeated after failing to receive Government support.
Mr Ward, who was awarded an MBE for his services to agriculture in 2014 and was crowned Arable Farmer of the Year by Farmers Weekly in 2009, said the vote had rocked his faith in the Conservative Party after he backed them at last year’s General Election.
‘I was undecided but at the last minute I thought, “No I will stick with the Conservatives”, so I voted for them,’ he said. ‘The trust that we have put in our Conservatives to look after industry and look after businesses has not materialised.
Dairy cows in Cheshire are typically kept in fields and are free to roam around
‘That is where we feel hugely betrayed. A lot of us wrote to MPs before this amendment was discussed to highlight how important food standards are – and we really do want them protecting – and they wrote back to us all and said they fully appreciated where we were coming from and really did understand and agree that food standards need maintaining. And then when the votes took place they completely turned tail and they all voted against it – that’s another betrayal. It really kicked us in the teeth.’
Mr Ward, who grows wheat, spring barley, sugar beet and oilseed rape, has been praised for the innovative methods he uses.
Rapeseed from the farm is processed into oil blends used by McDonald’s and it is one of only two farms in the country to be awarded ‘flagship’ status by the fast-food giant.
In Kersey, Colorado, it is a very different picture. This cattle feedlot operated by JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding has a capacity of 98,000 cattle
He said arable farmers were concerned about cheap wheat and barley imports, while livestock farmers were worried about beef, pork and chicken produced abroad to much lower standards.
Earlier this year, The Mail on Sunday revealed leaked emails in which one of the Government’s most senior officials made the incendiary suggestion that Britain does not need its own farming industry.
Influential Treasury adviser Tim Leunig argued that the food sector was not ‘critically important’ to the economy – and that agriculture and fishery production ‘certainly isn’t’. Mr Ward said our story sent ‘shockwaves through the whole industry’.
He added: ‘The Government really needs to decide, do they want an agricultural industry where we produce our own food while looking after the environment – or do they want to import it all and not have an agricultural industry?’
What they’re saying… but who do you believe?
Boris Johnson: ‘We will not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards.’ (February 2020)
Prince Charles: ‘The aggressive search for cheaper food has been described as a drive to the bottom which I am afraid is taking farmers with it. They are being driven into the ground by the prices they are forced to expect for their produce and this has led to some very worrying shortcuts. In the UK, as elsewhere – but particularly in the US – the consequences of this are ever more apparent in the deteriorating state of our public health.’ (May 2013)
Environment Secretary George Eustice: ‘In the UK we have built a very special market based on provenance, with particular attention to food safety and animal welfare standards. We will not jeopardise that through trade deals in the future.’ (February 2020)
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss: ‘We will never undermine our high domestic environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards – ensuring that in any agreement British farmers are always able to compete.’ (May 2020)
Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard: ‘Labour will vote against this [Agriculture] Bill because the issue of farm standards for our food is not a technical one; it is fundamental to what kind of country we are.’ (May 2020)
Minette Batters, National Farmers’ Union president: ‘We must not tie the hands of British farmers to the highest rung of the standards ladder while waving through food imports which may not even reach the bottom rung.’ (February 2020)
US President Donald Trump: ‘Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS! The EU is very protectionist with the US. STOP!’ (July 2017)
Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly: ‘Of course we are not going to have chlorinated chicken.’ (January 2020)
Woody Johnson, American Ambassador to the UK: ‘Millions of Britons visit America every year and I would wager most eat chicken while there. Ask them and I am sure they will tell you that American agricultural products are safe, nutritious and delicious. These products should absolutely be included in a US-UK free trade agreement.’ (January 2020)
Conservative Party manifesto 2019: ‘In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.’