Bill a ‘total disaster’
Former Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has claimed that the Agriculture Bill, which passed its third reading in the House of Commons last week, will be a total disaster for agriculture in Northern Ireland.
He continued: “There is nothing good in this Bill. It is mind boggling that any MP from Northern Ireland would vote for it.”
Nicholson’s comments come in the wake of the decision taken by all eight MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party to vote in favour of the Agriculture Bill.
The SDLP’s two representatives in the House of Commons voted against the measure, as did Stephen Farry from the Alliance party.
Nicholson continued: “The Bill opens the flood gates to cheap food imports into the UK from around the world. This food will not have been produced to the same standards achieved consistently by farmers in Northern Ireland.
“These imports will serve to drive markets down at a time when local farmers are under tremendous pressure. Cheap food, produced under who-knows-what standards, is the last thing that the farming and food sectors in Northern Ireland should be expected to compete with.
“The last thing farmers here need is the prospect of facing unfair competition on what is their home market.
“The Agriculture Bill has the potential to be the last nail in the coffin for agriculture in Northern Ireland.
“This is the true seriousness of the situation that is now unfolding. And, again, I am shocked that any local politician would vote in favour of such a measure.”
Nicholson expressed surprise that the British government seems relaxed with the prospect of importing almost 50% of the food required by the nation on an ongoing basis. Currently, the UK is only 58% self sufficient from a food production perspective.
He commented: “Fundamentally, this is all about trust. Currently, British consumers can have total trust in the provenance of the food they purchase from Northern Ireland. Local farmers produce food to the highest possible welfare and environmental standards.
“But all of this goes out the window if London embarks on a cheap food policy. In such a context our farmers will be the big losers because Westminster is hardly likely to make up the shortfall to local producers, once prices start to fall.”