We are calling upon retailers and the food service sector to commit to supporting our farmers. Our concerns are mounting about how the higher welfare and production standards in UK agriculture will be protected long term, given that MPs failed to enshrine that protection in law when voting against the recent amendment to the Agriculture Bill last month. Government has let farmers down and it is time for retailers and the food service sector to step up.
As vets, we are proud of the higher welfare standards currently achieved by the UK farming sector. Future trade deals to allow the import of cheap food from countries outside of the EU would be a step in the wrong direction, as it is likely to result in UK farmers not playing on an even playing field as they attempt to compete with countries with lower costs of production.
If the UK livestock sector is forced to adopt practices that are frowned upon in Europe to compete, such as the American applications of hormone growth treatments and chlorinated chicken, we would be severely risking our local, lucrative European export market.
Trade deals with more distant countries such as the USA or Australia maybe defendable from a purely economic point of view, but what about the carbon footprint associated with unnecessarily transporting food halfway across the world?
The livestock sector takes a lot of criticism based on the perceived carbon footprint associated with producing meat, eggs and milk, but the carbon emissions involved with long distance transport of food are potentially a much greater concern, regardless of whether the food is of an animal derivative or plant based equivalent.
From an ethical stance, it is imperative that higher welfare standards are maintained, while reducing the carbon footprint of our food supply – it’s the right, sustainable thing to do. As MPs have let down the sector, we are now calling on retailers and the food service industry to back UK farming.
By committing to higher welfare standards, retailers and the food service sectors can support UK farming now. Consumers will pick from the range that is made available. Retailers therefore have a high level of influence, as they can prioritise a range of Red Tractor produce at varying prices, while avoiding designating shelf space to imports of lower quality. We ask that they engage with the industry to help UK farmers continue producing high quality food in the months and years to come.
Ian Cure, VetPartners farm director