Neil Hudson MP Efra Committee

Efra committee member Neil Hudson said the government had to ensure food and production standards were upheld as part of new trade deals

The Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Efra) committee has launched an inquiry into the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals over concerns of how they could impact the British agrifood sector.

The cross-party parliamentary investigation will look at how deals with Australia and New Zealand, as well as the latest trans-pacific negotiations, could affect British businesses and consumers – particularly in areas like food safety and standards.

Prior to the UK’s exit from the EU, all products trading in and out of Britain followed strict EU regulation. A key concern post-Brexit is whether products entering UK markets as part of ongoing and future trade negotiations with countries like Australia and India will abide to equally stringent food safety and animal and environmental standards.

“The deals offer significant opportunities for UK producers, but it is vital our producers are protected and our high animal welfare and environmental standards are upheld in these deals,” said veterinarian and Efra committee member Neil Hudson.

“I pushed hard on these issues in the previous deals and we were able to secure animal welfare safeguards in chapters in the deals, and with campaigners like the NFU, we were able to secure stronger oversight by the Trade & Agriculture Commission.

“There is a huge opportunity for the UK to be a beacon to the rest of the world and drive up animal welfare standards globally through positive and strong diplomacy.”

Read more: India trade deal ‘could expose UK food to harmful chemicals’

PM Rishi Sunak reiterated his pledge to “protect UK food standards under all existing and future free trade agreements” at the No 10 food summit last month.

“There will be no chlorine-washed chicken and no hormone-treated beef on the UK market – not now, not ever,” he said.

“Production methods such as sow stalls and battery cages are not permitted in the UK. We will safeguard our ability to maintain high environmental, animal welfare and food standards in new trade agreements.”

The UK’s first major trade deals since Brexit, with Australia and New Zealand, officially started earlier this month.

It is also in the final stages of negotiating a further agreement with the trans-pacific bloc – which includes countries like Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico and Peru – as well as being in trade talks with the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and India.

But agrifood campaigners have been warning for months of the risks of allowing imports from countries with vastly different regulation around animal and environmental welfare standards and use of pesticides, such as Mexico and India, without strict enforcement.

Former government adviser Henry Dimbleby has previously said a failure to adopt a “core standards” approach to animal welfare and the environment while negotiating free trade agreements posed a danger of “exporting cruelty and carbon emissions abroad”.

The Efra inquiry will assess the government’s approach to international trade post-Brexit and weigh the positive and negative impacts of the agreements made so far and of those still to come.

Its goal is also to investigate the cumulative impact of the various trade deals on the agrifood sector and what support is available to food producers where lower import taxes, or tariffs, apply on food imports.

The Institute of Export & International Trade director general Marco Forgione welcomed the inquiry, as it would help gather robust data on trade in a post-Brexit landscape and how that will “practically work for those in the food supply chain”.

“There is a concern about potential differences in environmental, animal welfare, and food safety standards, with some suggestions that food products imported in to the UK which have been produced in Australia and New Zealand might not adhere to the high standards required of UK farmers,” he said.

Efra will also look into whether the government’s approach to agrifood trade is aligned with its commitment to human rights and environmental protection. This is an issue campaigners have also raised in regards to trade talks with GCC countries.

Ministers have also expressed concerns that the dissolution of the Department for International Trade and merger with the Business department could have a negative impact on food and agriculture trade policy, particularly without the level of scrutiny the former DIT committee ensured.

Defra told The Grocer it would continue to put farmers’ interests at the heart of all trade negotiations while upholding the UK’s food and production standards.

How do UK food standards differ from the rest of the world?