Sheep grazing field

Agrifood campaigners say Australian farmers produce meat to lower environmental standards than UK farmers

The UK government is once again under scrutiny for its post-Brexit trade deals.

Environmental campaign group Feedback have launched a legal challenge against the British government over alleged failure to assess the environmental impact of its new Australia free trade agreement.

Feedback campaigners claim the new trade deal gives Australian farmers “significant” access to UK markets to sell beef, lamb and dairy that have “a materially higher emissions intensity” than domestic meat production.

The group also said this had the potential to undercut UK farmers with agrifoods “produced to lower standards”.

It claims the government acted unlawfully in deciding not to assess the relative carbon intensities of beef produced in the UK and Australia because the available evidence “was inconclusive and too variable”.

Feedback, which is represented by Leigh Day, has last week filed an application for a judicial review of the Australia deal.

The legal firm’s solicitor Rowan Smith said: ”The legislation implementing the new tariff rules was, our client will argue, based on an impact assessment, which completely ignored science.

“It is argued that this irrationality renders the statutory instrument unlawful, and our client is asking the court to quash it.”

If Feedback wins, the decision could potentially affect negotiations of any upcoming trade deal.

The legal challenge follows a report by the independent Climate Change Committee, which found that recent trade deals risked “opening the door for imports of higher-carbon meat”.

Read more: Climate Change Committee slams lack of net zero support for agriculture sector

UK trade policy must protect risks of carbon leakage from trade in agricultural products if the country is to reach its net zero goals, researchers said.

The Australian and New Zealand free trade agreements, Britain’s biggest trade deals post-Brexit, officially came into force on 31 May.

However, critics have continuously claimed the UK drew the short straw in the negotiations because former prime minister Liz Truss reportedly wanted to sign the deals as quickly as possible.

Former Tory minister George Eustice, who led Defra at the time the agreements were signed, has previously said the Australia deal was “not actually a very good deal” for Britain, and that it “gave away far too much for far too little in return”.

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

A Department for Business and Trade spokesperson said the government did not comment on legal proceedings but that it was ”proud of the ambitious environment chapter agreed between the UK and Australia which affirms our shared commitment to the Paris Agreement and to strengthen cooperation on a range of environmental issues”.