Over Easter I went to the Downs to spend time with sheep farmers . Don’t worry I wasn’t planning my next career I was there because I wanted to learn about the impact of Brexit on our local farming community.
Lambing season was just getting underway and I got to spend time with newborn lambs that were still less than a day old. The word ‘cute’ doesn’t even cover it!
It’s a tough business, but the main thing farmers wanted to talk to me about was Brexit. I’ve always said that there are so many elements to Brexit that we will all struggle to truly understand the breadth of change that could happen as a result – some will be good but there are many, many areas where if we’re not careful it will have a terrible impact on our economy, or energy supply, and even the quality of the food we eat.
Farmers told me that Britain as part of the EU drove up standards of sheep rearing, controlling heavily the use of steroids, food quality, and living conditions. These standards go to the extent where every farmed sheep in the EU is tagged electronically and the food, medical records and other aspects of the sheep life are logged and available to food manufacturers to ensure the food we eat is of the highest standards.
Farmers are desperately worried that once we leave the EU and strike trade deals with other countries that our market could be flooded with meat and food that are of far, far lower standards than that we come to expect. Or that they will be forced to lower standards in order to compete. An example is America, where beef and sheep are routinely injected with levels of steroids and supplements which have been outlawed in the EU for a very long time. Not only would this put local farmers out of business, but we as consumers would also suffer greatly.
It is extremely likely that any trade deal with America will include the ability of America to sell meat products into Britain, something that is very heavily controlled at the moment due to their use of steroids.
This is another reason why it’s so important that Hove and Portslade retains a voice that will scrutinise and challenge government as these shambolic negotiations unfold. The stakes are so high, we must get each and every step right.
We sometimes forget that our constituency extends up into the Southdowns. We’re connected directly to the sea and the national park, so things like food and environmental standards aren’t abstract or distant to us, they are part of our community.