PEERS have again signalled their discontent with the government’s stance on post-Brexit food standards in the Agriculture Bill.

Tory peers joined Labour and Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords to vote to accept two amendments to the Agriculture Bill which seek to protect the livelihoods of British farmers.

The government was defeated by 282 votes to 244 on an amendment by Labour peer Lord Grantchester, which seeks to strengthen food standards for imported food, to ensure they are the same, or higher, than relevant UK food standards after the Brexit transition ends.

The amendment would require the government to report to parliament where negotiating objectives do not secure this.

Peers also voted by 278 votes to 200 to support an amendment by Lord Curry requiring the new Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) to submit reports on international trade agreements and their effect on farming for parliamentary scrutiny.

As the debate rages in the Commons and the Lords here we feature the views of two prominent Cumbrian farmers - Robert Craig, Ainstable dairy farmer and vice-chair of dairy co-operative, First Milk and Wigton dairy farmer, Ian Bowness, NFU Cumbrian County Chairman, on what the future holds for British Agriculture.

Robert Craig says: “Now the proposed amendments were voted out by the green benches the Agriculture Bill was due to return to the House of Lords once more for further scrutiny.

"Most disappointing was the Curry amendment brought by the highly respected cross-bencher and farmer Lord Curry. Assisted by the NFU the Curry amendment didn’t even get to be debated in the House of Commons due to some procedural non-compliance most of us will have never heard of or understand.

“Trust us” says the government, after making a complete mockery of the second chamber “we will honour our manifesto commitment and protect standards - we just don’t want to have our hands tied while we do the negotiating”

"So where does this leave UK food standards and future trade deals? I think it’s becoming clear as the current Covid crisis deepens the Government or more particularly the treasury would much prefer to have all options available with some control over both consumer food prices and agricultural support, throw in the awaited outcome of the current spending review and it’s not yet clear if current farm support levels can or even will be maintained – another manifesto commitment.

"As we pass mid October - Boris Johnson’s deadline for a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, the very real prospect of loosing the protection we’ve enjoyed as a member of the EU while at the same time seeing a sizable reduction in farm support must now be viewed as increasingly likely if not inevitable.

"The overwhelming majority of consumers buy on price (75percent) so a major priority for government is the maintenance of low cost and plentiful food supply. The short-term nature of politics makes dealing with structural change such as food systems very difficult while balancing the expectations of voters.

"There’s much talk about how future Agri-support will be managed and how the new mantra of “Public money for public goods” will work. Will DEFRA’s Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELM’s) be a base-line regulation with payments for compliance or a program of incentivising farmers and land managers to change towards more environmental friendly farming systems?

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette:

"I’m trying really hard not to be pessimistic here but I see little structural farming system change without a decent incentive to make the business case. The absence of this means further intensification of farms resulting in larger commodity businesses – business as usual. The exact opposite of what’s really required for consumer health and the health of our environment, we could and indeed must do so much better.”

Ian Bowness says: “Having the support of one million people who’ve signed a petition to say they don’t want our high standard food being undercut in future trade deals by imports which would be illegal to produce in Cumbria, puts a spring in your step as you head off in the morning to milk cows.

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette:

"On my farm in Wigton, I’m proud to produce milk to world-leading standards. It’s therefore extremely frustrating that our government has so far refused to support calls from an extraordinary alliance of farmers, environmentalists, chefs and animal welfare organisations, not to mention the one million members of the public who signed an NFU petition, all urging the government to take action to ensure our high standards are protected.

"The farming industry has come a long way in a short period. The million-strong petition shows that people care passionately about where their food comes from and they don’t want to see our world-leading environmental and animal welfare standards undermined. Important legislation in the shape of the Agriculture Bill is currently being debated in Parliament which could offer a solution if the government would only support it.Lord Curry put forward an amendment to the Bill, which the NFU believes provides a sensible approach to effective scrutiny of trade deals without unreasonably limiting the ability of the government to negotiate and sign trade agreements with overseas partners.

"Lord Curry’s amendment would also put our democratically elected MPs at the heart of safeguarding food and farming standards. The Agriculture Bill was last debated in the House of Commons on Monday (12th October), but sadly Lord Curry’s amendment was not deemed acceptable by the House of Commons Clerks on a technical issue.

"Thankfully though the fight for the future of the Agriculture Bill is not over yet. Lord Curry can re-table a new version of the amendment (slightly reworded) to be debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday (20th October). Lord Curry’s approach is to strengthen the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission by giving it a longer lifespan and to enable it to provide expert advice to Parliament on each and every trade deal, assessing what impact they might have on our food and farming standards.

"MPs can then take this into account when deciding whether to accept trade deals or not.If Lord Curry’s amendment is successful in the Lords debate there will probably be one final debate amongst MPs very shortly afterwards (perhaps a day or two later.

"MPs will essentially be given a final chance to vote on this sensible compromise. We’re not looking for special measures.We simply want to be treated fairly and for politicians to be allowed proper scrutiny of trade deals so that Parliament can take back control of our trade policy.

"As I put my wellies on to start my day on the farm, I can only hope that those making the decisions realise what they do now will have implications for the food on our plates for generations to come.”