It is with great regret that we see that the Parish Amendment to the Agriculture Bill, seeking to preserve the high standards of British farming, has been voted down in Parliament. It is with even greater regret that we see that three of the five Somerset MPs – Marcus Fysh, James Heappey and Rebecca Pow – voted against the amendment, and thus against the interests of many of their constituents. However, we applaud David Warburon and Ian Liddell-Grainger in voting against their party and for their constituents!
Farming, and the quality food and drink industry, are important to the Somerset economy. Although their contribution to the wealth of the county is not one of our greatest economic drivers, this sector punches well above its weight in terms of employment, giving work to some 15% of Somerset employees (2013 figures).
Food standards in this country are about to be hit by a double whammy – the loss of a large part of our market for quality food to the EU, and a trade deal with the US, which is very likely to allow the import of food of lower quality and welfare conditions from the States, creating competition for our own farmers which will force them to lower the welfare and standards of which they are rightly proud. Somerset, as an agricultural county, will be more severely impacted by these changes than many. There will be family farms which find themselves unable to continue.
We also question the wisdom of lowering welfare standards in animal husbandry when it is clear that epidemics and pandemics over the last century have been mainly caused by viral transmission from another species into humans, and that these transmissions have often been made easier by poor welfare and hygiene standards.
The Agriculture Bill has not yet passed into law, and so we would urge everyone to contact their MP, and also any members of the House of Lords who have local connections and/or an interest in agriculture, and express their concerns.