The Scottish Farmer | 23 March 2023
Free trade deal with Mexico discussion and animal welfare
By Nicholas Lester, PA
Claims that beef imported from Mexico has a lower carbon footprint than UK-reared beef are ‘B-word’, an environment minister has said.
The “unparliamentary” reference by Lord Benyon was made as he was tackled in Parliament over the implications of a post-Brexit free trade deal with Mexico.
At the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference last month, farming minister Mark Spencer refused to rule out beef imports from the South American country, for which he was criticised by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).
The CCC said importing such beef would compromise the UK’s net zero targets and would be unfair to UK businesses who will have to adopt stringent measures to reduce emissions.
The committee raised its concerns after Mr Spencer said: “We have to be fair to everyone. We can’t say ‘we will sell milk to you, but we won’t buy your beef’.”
The committee’s chairman Lord Deben, himself a former agriculture minister, had written to Mr Spencer warning the importation of Mexican beef “with its high carbon footprint” would be in contravention of the UK’s environmental commitments.
He pressed Lord Benyon over when he could expect an answer to his letter, who said he would follow it up.
Lord Benyon added: “I am mystified by some science that gets thrown at me occasionally in this place which suggests that beef reared 12,000 miles away, transported in refrigerated trucks and ships and then distributed to retailers here can have a lower carbon footprint than beef or lamb produced on grass fields here and going just a few miles to a retailer.
“When I hear that, one word comes into my head. It is an unparliamentary one and begins with B.”
Earlier, he told peers: “We remain firmly committed to upholding our world-leading animal welfare standards.
“Welfare standards are considered in all our trade negotiations and each new agreement will continue to be subject to robust parliamentary scrutiny.
“It has always been the case that some products produced to different animal welfare standards can be imported into the UK as long as they comply with our import requirements. Those import requirements include the ban on meat treated with growth-promoting hormones.”
Labour peer Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said: “Can the minister understand why struggling beef farmers issue a hollow laugh when they hear these promises to protect standards, which are simply ignored when our trade ministers are desperate to thrash out a deal?”
Responding, Lord Benyon said: “They will not be allowed to import beef that has been reared with growth-promoting hormones in it. That is absolutely clear. It is our policy and it will remain so.”