The Green Party have accused Jacob Rees-Mogg of giving local farmers ’a slap in the face’ after he showed his support for beef imports from the US.
Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics West programme last weekend Jacob Rees-Mogg said that Brexit offered the opportunity to import cheap beef from Argentina, America and Australia. His comments sparked protests from the Green Party including their candidate for the North East Somerset Sally Calverley.
A press release by the party asked who this opportunity was helping.
"It really isn’t rocket science. If you import cheap meat from abroad, then British farmers will suffer deep consequences, as will the industries and communities which depend upon a thriving agriculture," said the statement. "We have seen this with New Zealand lamb and the impact it has had on farmers in marginal areas, including the Mendips and Exmoor. The National Sheep Association and NFU have both issued warnings about Brexit and the potentially catastrophic effect that it could have on British Farming. Jacob Rees-Mogg appears to be supporting such threats."
Sally Calverley Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for North East Somerset says “Jacob Rees-Mogg wants Brexit at all cost, and has ignored the terrible tragedies cheap imports cause to local family farming businesses. This government is reckless and weak: it simply doesn’t care who gets trampled in the rush for the door. We need a strong local MP who will work hard for local interests, including our farming community.”
The timing of Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments gained further criticism. His appearance on the BBC’s flagship politics programme came just days after the MP celebrated Somerset Day by posting a picture of himself and his eldest son with Winford reared cattle. The Facebook picture shows Andrew Tanner’s Somerset Sheeted cattle grazing next to Mr Rees-Mogg. The cattle are the result of Mr Tanner’s breeding attempts to reintroduce a Somerset specific breed.
Oliver Dowding, Agricultural Spokesman for the Green Party says “I couldn’t believe my ears. Especially after seeing Jacob Rees-Mogg has shared photos of Andrew Tanner’s Somerset Sheeted on Somerset Day. And then there he was, proposing we should import Argentinian, American and Australian beef! I know he lives in London, but really, you’d have thought after his 7 years as an MP for North East Somerset he would have better appreciated the fragile economics of farming.”
On Facebook East Harptree’s Mick Undersell echoed Mr Dowding’s statement when he commented on the photo saying: "Nice photo Jacob - then you back it up on Sunday Politics West by saying Brexit will be great for the UK as we can import beef from Argentina! A slap in the face for Andrew Tanner and small farmers like him wouldn’t you say??"
Andrew Tanner however has taken a more measured approach to the fall out surrounding his cows and Jacob Rees-Moggs comments.
"As a Farmer I am well aware of the challenges that Brexit will bring and the views held by Mr Rees Mogg regarding removing trade tariffs," said Mr Tanner. "The threat to UK beef from imports from the USA and Argentina does not concern me. Free trade will happen post Brexit, what farmers want to know is, will the new govenment of whatever shade take the necessary steps to provide the consumer with the information to make an informed choice? That means forcing supermarkets to be honest about where the meat they offer for sale comes from. Also what steps will the new government take, if any to deal with food security?
"The UK is at the mercy of others because we dont produce enough of our own food and if Brexit ends badly for farmers they go out of business and so we import more food. If that includes beef from Brazil that will be at the expense of local ecology including the rainforest. Do any of the political parties care about farming in the UK? I am not sure?"
At the Chew Valley Hustings event held in Ubley on Thursday evening Andrew Tanner asked the candidates including Jacob Rees Mogg about food security and reliance on foreign imports. Responding to the question Mrs Calverley warned that food would be more expensive post-Brexit before once again attacking Mr Rees-Mogg for his comments relating to tariffs and foreign imports.
The MP for North East Somerset and Conservative candidate responded by clarifying his belief that lifting tariffs on non-EU imports would not be detriment to British farmers or consumers.
"Our current system of tariffs protect farmers in continental Europe and not our farmers. And makes our food more expensive," Mr Rees-Mogg told the assembled crowd in Ubley. "We are only 55% self-sufficient in food. The tariff against beef from the United States protects Irish and Dutch farmers not our farmers. The tariff on wine protects French, Italian and Spanish wine growers not our wine growers because they are very small. And you ladies and gentlemen pay this price because you can’t get access to cheaper goods from the rest of the world, from countries like Australia that have very high standards and good quality."
Back in January the Farmer’s Weekly reported that agriculture was under threat as a result of a US-UK post-Brexit trade deals.
Lib Dem leader Tim Fallon was reported to say that “Hard Brexit and a free-trade deal with Trump pose a threat to the family farm as we know it."
When Jacob Rees-Mogg agreed for zero tariffs on beef and wine from non-EU countries like the US on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, his comments sparked a flurry of comments that foreshadowed the ones of this week. farmers reacting angrily on Twitter. Beef producer Rachel Hallos tweeted at the time: “Hell no!!! Hormone-fed beef in the UK, no no no!”
Whilst fellow farmer Sam Vincent, added: “I’m fairly sure we can produce enough home-grown beef without any imports! Let’s keep it grass fed and low carbon.”
These comments reflect the biggest public concern regarding the trade deal with the US, that imports previously banned due to US-practices deemed unsuitable for EU and UK consumers such as hormone-fed beef, chlorinated chicken, unlabelled genetically-modified (GM) foods, and pesticide treated products would now be sold to consumers.
The accepting of these products is a condition of the deal US-UK trade deal, Bob Young, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Radio 4’s Today programme in January.
This would mean that people could unwittingly buy food that has previously banned substances in it like the 82 pesticides banned by the EU but not the US on grounds of health, including the birth-defect causing herbicide, atrazine or the likely carcinogen, permethrin.
Mr Rees-Mogg told the audience at the Chew Valley Hustings however that the UK could set its own standards.
"We independently (of the EU) can maintain our own standards, so it isn’t a question of importing food of low quality," Mr Rees-Mogg said.
Opponents of the non-EU trade deals question what those standards would be; worried that a desire for profit may allow previously prohibited practices.
A concern only strengthen by the National Farmers Union [NFU] declaration that if the US-UK trade deal sees these imported foods entering the UK market, then British farmers should be able to use the same production techniques to ensure “an even playing field”.
Farmer Andrew Tanner does not to share the NFU’s views on allowing British farmers to use the same practices of the US but instead he is urging government, supermarkets and the consumer to buy British.
"Free of the EU restrictions on labelling UK politicians have the opportunity to reign in supermarkets and their misleading labelling of cheap imported low quality meat," said Mr Tanner. "There may be some difficulty in preventing the legal right to cheap imports, but clear descriptive labelling surely has the power to reduce the appeal of these products.
"Of course the discerning buyer has other choices apart from buying prepacked meat from who knows where that may have travelled across continents to the Supermarket shelf. When you buy meat from butcher Cliff Pearce in Chew Magna he will tell you where the animal was reared, for example lamb this week is from Sam Millard who farms at Knowle Hill Chew Magna, hardly any air miles there! Similarly the Gay families at New Manor Farm Shop West Harptree and Newton St Loe Farm shop, rear the animals whose meat appears in their butchery."
This article was updated to include Mr Tanner’s comments on Tuesday 16th May and then Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments on Thursday 18th May