Torridge District Council has voted to express its anger and disappointment at the ‘devastating blow’ of the government’s decision to vote against protecting food standards in the Agriculture Bill.

The bill is designed to prepare the farming industry for when the UK no longer has to follow EU laws and rules next year.

Peers in the House of Lords had called for a number of changes to the draft law to be made, including one which would give MPs a veto over sections in trade deals relating to food imports, arguing these changes were necessary to make it impossible for the US or other countries to export so-called chlorinated chicken or beef fattened with hormones.

However, MPs voted by 332 votes to 279 to back government plans to reject the amendment when it came before Parliament in October.

But at Monday night’s full council meeting, a motion put forward by Cllr Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin calling on the authority to write to the local MPs and urge them to vote for the Lords’ amendments to ‘Save British Farming’ when it goes back to the Commons on November 4 was supported.

Cllr Cottle-Hunkin said: “I come from a farming family. We have been farmers for generations and I hope to take on the farm in the future, and would like to think that one of my children might be interested in doing the same. But this isn’t just about farmers, this is about everyone who eats food, and that is us all.

READ MORE: MPs vote to overturn measures aimed at protecting UK food standards

“Our government promised us that in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. The government now has the opportunity to take this promise, and enshrine it in law through the Agriculture Bill, as recommended by the House of Lords, yet they are failing to do so.

“The Agriculture Bill has been 'ping-ponging' between the House of Lords and the House of Commons and will go back to the Commons on November 4 when MPs will be asked for a third time to stand up for British Farmers by voting for amendments to support our high standards. At the last vote, 16 conservative MPs put their heads above the parapet and rebelled, including MP for Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish, a former dairy farmer and chairman of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, MP for North Dorset, Simon Hoare, and vet and MP for Penrith and The Border, Dr Neil Hudson.  But we need more MPs to put their communities first and do the same this time.

“The fear of cheap imported food undermining our standards of production has united all key stakeholders from the entire farming community, from the National Farmers Union, The Country Land and Business Association, to vets, chefs, environmental bodies including Greener UK and Sustain, and to the general public.

“The current Bill leaves the door open to our domestic standards being undercut in new trade deals. It risks letting in cheaper agricultural imports, undercutting the high-welfare, healthy food our farmers produce, as well as their competitiveness. This is not just about hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken, but also matters such as stocking densities, battery cages, antibiotic use, pesticides, fungicides and more.

“At present we risk being sold out, and there’s the possibility we could let in lower-quality food to clinch a trade deal, which is why it must be ruled out and the amendment to the Agriculture Bill must be agreed.

“Family farms are the lifeblood of the Southwest. 72 per cent of Devon’s land is farmed, with the constituency of Torridge and West Devon having the highest proportion of employment in agriculture across all of the UK constituencies. In fact, Devon’s GDP from farming is double that of the rest of the country.

“As farmers here in Devon, we have pride in our produce. Farming is not a job, but a way of life, where practices and livestock have often been passed down through generations. Farming is a vulnerable industry that faces huge pressures at the best of times, from issues such as crop failure and disease, and now the added pressures of Brexit, coronavirus and climate change.

“The combined pressures and continual drive for cheap food and fears over unfair competition from imports post-Brexit are sadly having an inevitable impact on the mental health of an already-isolated workforce.

“The result of the vote on November 4 will have ramifications for both farming and the wider public for decades to come. As well as the direct impact on the farming community we also risk bringing long-term health problems and pressures on the NHS as a result of eating sub-standard food. I’ve heard many people say that we just need to buy quality and buy British. We do not want to see British food undermined by imported food that could be produced to standards that are illegal here.

“Please vote for the notice of motion and let us send a strong message to central government and our local parliamentary representatives, and as a council show our support to our farming and wider community.”

Cllr Philip Hackett, supporting the motion, added: “We cannot risk a trade deal that seeks to trade away our high standards,” while Cllr Ken James, leader of the council, said: “This is straight forward protection of our farming. I have gone organic and that is the way we should be going. We should producing quality food.”

However, Cllr Doug Bushby said he was uncomfortable with the motion that that ‘party politics’ was rearing its head, while Cllr Chris Leather said this was a political statement being made by the Liberal Democrats.

But councillors voted by 20 votes to five, with ten abstentions, to support the motion that will see Torridge District Council express its anger and disappointment on the government’s decision to vote against protecting food standards in the Agriculture Bill and to write to MPs to ask them to put their heads above the parapet and do what is right and ‘Save British Farming’.