ADVICE: Richard Betton
ADVICE: Richard Betton

FARMERS need to make their voices heard in the consultation of new agricultural laws and future trade deals if their businesses are to survive.
This was the message from Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Service’s Richard Betton during a live question and answer session over social media last week.
Farmers across the area joined the session to learn about progress on the Government’s proposed new Agriculture Bill.
The bill sets out how farmers will be rewarded for managing “public goods” such as better air and water, improved access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
However, Mr Betton warned that there is very little information in the bill and the detail will come through legislation that follows its passage through parliament.
He said: “Food security is mentioned in the bill, but in the guise of a report to parliament about the state of our food supply – the amount we are producing and the amount we are importing.
“It is about the security of the supply, it is not about the standard of the supply.”
The worry, he added, is that the UK, which has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, could strike trade deals with countries with lower standards.
He said: “You could end up with food coming into this country produced at far lower standards and because it is produced at lower standards, it is much cheaper to produce. This would undermine UK farming quite considerably.”
In light of this, Mr Betton said, the National Farmers Union had launched a petition to protect animal welfare standards.
The petition has attracted more than a million signatures to date.
Mr Betton added: “As a result of this petition, earlier this week Liz Truss, the trade secretary, announced there would be a food standards commission set up as part of the Agricultural Act to actually oversee this, and our standards of production won’t be compromised by cheap imports.
“We got the first step won, which was getting the food standards commission, but we have got to make sure that those trade deals that we sign next year don’t undermine our production in this country.”
Another concern raise by Mr Betton was if the UK failed to strike deals and were to revert to World Trade Organisation rules.
These rules, he said, governed only the safety of food for human consumption and not how it is produced.
He said: “There is nothing unsafe about chicken washed in chlorine for people to eat – but it needs to be washed in chlorine to make it safe and that is because of the stock density in most American broiler houses is twice as high as in this country.
“It makes our cost of production a lot higher and we just can’t compete with that on a level playing field.”
An additional concern raised was about a new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which is proposed to replace the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
A third tier of the ELMS makes provision for land to be permanently removed from agricultural production.
Mr Betton said: “[This could see] massive payments made for flood mitigation going to landlords – basically, to just abandon the land and take the money.”
He urged farmers to make their views known on the Agricultural Bill before the consultation closes.