Angry farmers in North Yorkshire staged their second demonstration in two weeks on Friday, 9 Oct against the Westminster government’s plans to ditch UK animal welfare and environmental standards for food imports – flooding the market with cheap, low-quality produce. A convoy of over twenty tractors, crop sprayers and other farm vehicles parked in Stokesely’s showground before setting off down the High Street with lights on and horns blasting. Bystanders clapped and cheered as the convoy went past – and it was very clear that local people support Yorkshire farmers. Protestors are demanding safeguards to stop US imports of hormone-treated beef and pork and chlorinated chicken undercutting British farmers.
Tomorrow the Agriculture Bill comes back to the Commons with a new amendment from the House of Lords – and MPs will have a second chance to prevent imports of sub-standard food as a result of future trade deals. Julian Sturdy, Conservative MP for Outer York, has confirmed today plans to join Tory rebels by supporting the amendment
Friday’s protest was the second demonstration by farmers in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Richmond constituency. Last month fourteen tractors, farm vehicles and lorries from businesses connected to the farming sector drove in convoy up and down Northallerton High Street.
The protests are being supported by Save British Farming. The group’s North Yorkshire organiser, Richard Sadler, said: “We want to shine the spotlight on Rishi Sunak and other North Yorkshire MPs who claim to support farmers but who have been quietly voting against their best interests.”
“If the Agriculture Bill is allowed through unamended, the consequences for traditional farming in North Yorkshire would be devastating. “
“But this is not just about farmers – it affects everyone who cares about animal welfare, the environment and how their food is produced.”
One of the local farmers joining the Stokesley protest, Matthew Nichols, said it was important that everyone understood the threat to farming and food standards.
“The UK has some of the best animal welfare and food quality standards in the world and there are a lot of regulations we have to comply with. That’s not always easy but we’re respected for that.”
“You can’t lead and preach to others if you just allow in any food products from abroad – that would undermine everything we’re doing.”
He added: “Some people will always try to buy the food that’s produced here but if these imports are allowed there are certain sectors of the market where people will end up eating imported food without even realising it.”
“A lot of farmers are already in difficulty financially and with the weather, reductions in payments – and now this – many could be driven to bankruptcy.”
Graham Clarke, who farms near Bedale, said: “In this country farmers are trying their best to reduce the amount of antibiotics that goes into food and they are only used when they need to be.”
“But when you go across to America every animal gets fed antibiotics and hormones as growth promoters – and if we allow in meat produced in this way it will reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics we need for treating diseases (in humans) like MRSA and TB.”
He added: “Farmers all over the UK are getting angry about the Government’s plans. The idea of undercutting our farmers with dodgy cheap meat from US factory farms is also hugely unpopular with the British public, with more than a million people signing the NFU’s petition to maintain minimum food standards.”
After the demo Graham Clarke travelled by tractor to Rishi Sunak’s constituency office in Northallerton to deliver a letter urging him to back Yorkshire farmers and protect animal welfare and food standards when the Agriculture Bill comes back to the Commons this week. At the same time socially-distanced mini demonstrations were staged outside the constituency offices as letters were handed in to five other Conservative in North Yorkshire and the North East: Julian Smith (Skipton & Ripon ) Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk & Malton), Andrew Jones (Harrogate &Knaresborough), Julian Sturdy (York Outer) and Richard Holden (North West Durham).