With over 30 years’ experience in hospitality, food and drink at The Langton Arms, a successful butchery in the form of Rawston Farm Butchery and having hailed from a fifth-generation farming family, I’ve been invited to talk about the Australian trade deal, and what it means to the UK farming community.
We did a casual survey, and when asked, even fellow farmers did not know the ins and outs of the Australian trade deal our government are not-so-quietly making on our behalf as a nation. In fact, when you investigate more closely, there really is not a lot of information available in the public domain, which raises eyebrows, considering the implicit effect it will unarguably have on our UK based farmers, growers and producers.
In an article featured over at BBC online, Liz Truss, Trade Secretary tells MP’s “I am always looking to make sure British farmers will not be undercut by unfair practices from elsewhere,”. However, the UK are known to have among the highest standards in hygiene and animal welfare. As Tanya Steele, Chief Executive of WWF-UK critically states, “A rushed trade deal with Australia could drive a coach and horses through those efforts and provide a gateway into the UK for foods produced in ways that harm the environment.”*
British farmers have such high welfare farming standards compared to anywhere else in the world. We’ve seen countless examples of how cheap imported meat is making its way into our food chain almost under the radar.
Australian beef, for example, is produced intensively and more cheaply than can be done in UK. In this deal, Australia’s top beef exporter expects to increase sales to the UK tenfold, so clearly it is impossible that our high standards will not be compromised, and once again the consumer will be able to be easily mislead about what they are eating. Already, mislabelling on cheap meat imports to the UK is a huge problem, with this meat being permitted to use the supposedly trusted Red Tractor label, which suggests it has been reared here in the UK.
We’ve seen cheap pork being imported, which has been made into sausages and labelled with the British flag. Is this ethical? No. The consumer is led to believe they are buying British produce being raised under the high standards we can trust, but this potential loophole means those who do not know what to look for, are eating meat that has not been raised to such high standards, or in fact, mislabelled meat, which could be something entirely different to what they think they are eating.
Only back in Easter 2021, New Zealand lamb was being wrapped with the British flag, and when we did a price check British lamb was in fact cheaper than New Zealand lamb. So, the value was not even in benefitting from a lower price – why are we letting this happen?
Love Local Trust Local was founded to help raise awareness and educate the public on how food labelling really works, and help the consumer know who to trust. With these sorts of trade agreements, this is providing plenty of space to truly muddy the waters and make this a far greater challenge.
As a country, it is terrifying to think that we only have around 6 months of food before we run out completely. Importing is not the answer – ramping up our UK farmers output is a more sustainable approach. If Covid has taught us anything, surely, it is that we need to value our local produce far more. Over the last year and a half we have seen a huge increase on reliance on local farm shops, butcheries, and the like at the time where the consumer almost had no choice.
As we saw first-hand, heading into the big supermarkets to pick up your internationally mislabelled produce, was not as reliable as the public would have been led to believe. This was because international travel was halted, and borders put firmly in place to contain the virus. How would this have played out, had there been no UK-reared produce to buy?
Whilst people will always want to buy cheaper produce, which is a real need for some people when considering budgeting, it is important to understand that if we all do our bit to shop locally, those prices for outstanding local produce will be able to come down making it more accessible for all.
In contrast, if we continue to buy en masse from countries with shoddy standards, this challenge will always be insurmountable. In essence, if we do not support our British farmers, there will be no local produce. This trade agreement means that hundreds of British farmers are destined to have their livelihood cut or destroyed, especially the smaller farmers, as they simply cannot compete.
With the Australian trade deal looming, and the potential US trade deal in our sights, meat traceability will become impossible, and that is something that the UK has been extremely thorough about, to protect our high standards.
Rawston Farm Butchery was established in 2012, at the time when the horse meat scandal was underway; horse meat was being wrapped in beef to disguise it, because it was full of painkillers, and this contaminated meat was therefore allowed to be filtered into our food chain here in the UK. These are the kinds of issues we can expect to see increase and take hold with these trade agreements coming into play.
As a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife, I cannot emphasise enough, that the British farmers need to be protected from the abuse of the food industry. Farmers are busy people and are essential to our very existence. Farmers do not have time for confrontation – they are passionate about looking after their animals and growing their crops, and their time is fully occupied with just that. This is why Love Local Trust Local exists – to truly fly the flag for our local farmers, growers and producers, and help protect their livelihoods, which in turn, protects our society as a whole.
To coin a bumper sticker phrase, you will have likely seen; “No Farmers, No Food, No Future.” Sadly, never has a truer phrase been stated. People are always going to want cheap food I understand that. But I’d like to feel they want the British farmer to survive as well, given how integral this is to our very being.
To learn more about food labelling, to support local, and to get behind our farmers, growers and producers, head over to Love Local Trust Local.
Barbara Cossins, Founder of Love Local Trust Local, The Langton Arms & Rawston Farm Butchery