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Livestock produced in Australia is more harming to the planet compared to domestically-produced meat and dairy, Feedback campaign group says

Environmental campaigners have won the right to legally challenge the government over the impact of its Australia trade deal on British producers.

Campaign group Feedback has been granted a hearing in the High Court, where it will argue the free trade agreement could lead to Australian meat and dairy producers “potentially undercutting” British farmers with goods produced to lower standards and with greater environmental impact.

The Australian and New Zealand free trade agreements, Britain’s biggest trade deals post-Brexit, which have been in place since end of May last year, have been criticised for being disadvantageous to UK farmers.

Critics – including former Defra secretary George Eustice – have claimed the UK drew the short straw in the negotiations because then prime minister Liz Truss reportedly wanted to sign the deals as quickly as possible.

Feedback claims the government’s own assessment of the impact of the Australia trade deal was flawed, as ministers chose “not to apply an internationally recognised methodology to ascertain livestock emissions” linked to imported beef, lamb, mutton and dairy from Australia.

The group argues there is “considerable difference” in the climate impacts of livestock produced in Australia compared with domestically produced meat and dairy.

This therefore jeopardises the UK’s legal commitments to take climate change and carbon emissions into account when drafting policy, campaigners have warned.

A judge has now directed that their full arguments be heard during a High Court hearing, where Feedback will be represented by law firm Leigh Day.

“We are delighted that we have been granted a hearing for our challenge to the UK-Australia free trade agreement,” said Feedback executive director Carina Millstone.

“Rather than relying on flimsy environmental impact assessments, it is imperative that the government truly assess the climate impacts of its trade deals, so that trade supports the curbing of emissions at home and abroad, rather than drive further catastrophic warming.”

Feedback’s legal case also argues that the government failed to quantify the effects that cheaper, tariff-free imports of Australian food could have on domestic meat and dairy consumption in its impact assessment.

“The greater availability of cheap meat on UK supermarket shelves and in the foodservice industry will increase consumption, undermining recommendations from both the independent review of the National Food Strategy, commissioned by the government in 2019, and the Climate Change Committee (CCC), that substantial reductions in meat and dairy are essential to tackle climate change,” Feedback said.

A report last year by the CCC found that post-Brexit trade deals risked “opening the door for imports of higher-carbon meat”.

The legal challenge will ultimately determine whether the government has adequately assessed the impact of this trade agreement, and in doing so risked Britain’s chances to deliver on net zero targets.

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

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said: “At the heart of this groundbreaking case is an issue of real constitutional importance.

“When the UK enters into international trade agreements, what does the law require in terms of the assessment of the climate change impact that will result? We welcome the court’s directions that our client will have the opportunity to present full legal argument on these issues.”

A government spokesperson said: “We do not comment on legal proceedings.”