South Scotland MSP Emma Harper on Monday 17 August, lead a discussion which brought together cross party politicians, journalists, farmers, food producers and policy experts, to discuss all things rural in post-Brexit Britain.

The discussion was particularly pertinent as the UK Trade Bill has been passed in the House of Commons and is approaching its second reading in the House of Lords. This UK trade bill will be the piece of legislation which will govern future trade deals with countries outside of the EU after the EU/UK transition period ending the UK’s 40 year relationship with the EU which ends on December 31st this year.

At the meeting, a number of facts were discussed in relation to standards of the environment and climate change, food safety in terms of potential imports of food and drink products coming into the UK and of standards of animal welfare as well as production and processing differences.

It was noted that the UK currently exports 63% of its produce to the EU and receives 70% of food and drink products – particularly fruit and vegetables – from the EU. Additionally, it was noted that the UK – and in particular Scotland – currently has some of the highest food safety, animal welfare and environment standards internationally. Many of these standards are replicated by the EU.

For example, intensive farming practices in the United States mean that many US farmers use in excess of 30% more growth hormones and high percentages of antibiotics when rearing their animals. The use of growth enhancing hormones is banned in the UK and antibiotic use, which directly correlates with antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance, is much less in Scotland and not used as a matter of routine.

The UK Government have refused to provide categoric assurances, as part of trade deals with countries outside of the EU, that the current levels of food standards, animal welfare standards and environmental standards will not be stipulated as a criteria that other countries achieve in order to export their food and drink products into the UK market. Indeed, the UK Government have also refused to provide assurances that any of these potential imports will have clear country of origin labelling post-Brexit – a concern echoed by the National Farmers Union.

Commenting, Ms Harper said:

“I was pleased to host this timely online discussion which heard from two expert farmers – Joe Stanley from East Midlands in England and Colin Ferguson from South West Scotland – working in the heart of the industry, about their thoughts, concerns and knowledge about the standards of food safety, of animal welfare and of environment policy in a post-Brexit Britain. Their contributions were fantastic, insightful and really helped those attending – including farmers, food producers, journalists and policy experts – learn about the issues facing the sector.

“As an MSP who represents our large rural South Scotland region with, for example, 48% of Scotland’s dairy farms, and as a former member of the Constitution Committee and current member of the Rural Economy Committee, I am passionate about promoting and protecting the world class standards of food safety, the environment and animal welfare which we see across Scotland and the EU. It is particularly important to hear about the differences in production and processing of our food products. Indeed, I have raised these issues with the UK and Scottish Governments, with the Agriculture sector leadership and in the media since my election in 2016.

“I have a particular interest in helping raise awareness about food and drink standards not being just about hormone injected beef or chlorinated chicken. Joe Stanley provided a clear, definitive, vivid description of why chlorine wash is required in US poultry processing – due to the unclean conditions, excess droppings which release ammonia gas which causes blindness in the chickens. There are hormones and antibiotic use in pig rearing that we need to be aware of – Ractopamine and Carbamax for example. I could go on. This is a really important issue for consumers to be aware of.

“The facts discussed at the virtual meeting demonstrated significant differences between farming practices both here in Scotland, in the UK, and around the world. It was clear from the meeting that there are very real concerns from across Scotland’s agricultural sector about the UK Government’s approach to ensuring our standards are maintained post-Brexit, and to ensuring that our Scottish farmers are not disadvantaged. The fact that, for example, the UK Government have refused to rule out that food and drink products coming into the UK will not need to comply with our current high standards – combined with their lack of assurances regarding food and country of origin labelling – must urgently be addressed.

“I will be writing to the UK Government, the House of Lords Select Committees on Rural Affairs and Trade and to the Scottish Government again on these issues and would be more than happy to talk to anyone as we move forward.”

Joe Stanley, said;

‘I was delighted to be given the opportunity to speak at the Farm to Fork discussion in order to raise the vital issue of safeguarding our high domestic food production standards in future trade deals. We must ensure that on welfare, environmental sustainability, antibiotic usage and traceability, British farmers are not undercut by the importation of food that would be illegal to produce here. This is vital to the future prosperity of our industry and the health and security of our nation.’

Colin Ferguson said;

“It was a pleasure to be asked to contribute to this discussion. Farmers in Scotland and the UK can see a real crossroads coming in the construction of future trade deals. The UK is a trading nation, imports and exports are vital to our economy and food security. But with any trade deals we must ensure that food production standards and safety, which are second to none in the UK, are not undermined at a cost to the consumer, farmers and the environment. The way we produce food in Scotland and the UK is the key to unlocking a solution to climate change. If we import our food we export our responsibilities and the potential to be real world leaders in producing even more tasty, nutritious and climate friendly food.

Facts source: National Farmers’ Union


Eggs Minimum requirement enriched cages – 750 sq cm =

+ perch, nest box & litter

No federal laws on hen welfare; voluntary guidelines suggest cages of 432 sq cm

US costs = 25% lower

Chicken Only potable (safe) water permitted to wash carcases. Legal maximum stocking densities/AMR protocols apply No legal maximum stocking densities in major producing states – pathogen reduction Treatments (eg chlorine dioxide) required to wash carcasses
Beef Growth Hormones banned since 1981. Primarily grass based herds average size 27 animals Hormones widely used. Primarily grain feedlot based; 1000+ cattle herds = 90% of output

Hormones = 20-30% increased productivity

Pork Sow stall banned in 1999. Growth hormones banned in 1996. Predominantly housed in straw beds. Sow stalls legal in 41 states. Ractopamine growth hormones used in 60-80% pigs. Predominantly housed on slatted floors.
Dairy Somatic cell count (SCC) limit -indicator of cow health/welfare – 400,000. Hormones banned in 1990. SCC limit 750,000. Widespread use of BST growth hormone, believed to cause significant cow health/welfare issues.
Crops Restricted access to modern crop protection tech ologies as a result of EU ‘hazard based’ approach. Full access time technologies such as GM and neonic seed treatments. Greater productivity = greater costs
Antibiotics 53% reduction in farm abx use 2014-2018. Now the 5th lowest user in EU. Despite 2017 federal rules, ABx crucial to human health still being used in ‘unacceptable’ quantities on farms to boost productivity.

By 2050 10m could die annually from Anti microbial Resistance across the world

Transport Maximum legal journey time for livestock of 12 hours. Maximum livestock densities mandated. Maximum journey times of 28 hours. No restrictions on maximum livestock densities.

Emma Harper MSP: Emma is a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the South Scotland Region. She is a member of the Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee (RECC) and Deputy Convener of Health and Sport Committee. Emma has interest in promoting optimal food safety, welfare and environment standards.

Joe Stanley: Joe is an East Midlands arable and beef farmer, conservationist, columnist, advocate for sustainability for food, farming the environment.

Colin Ferguson: Colin is a South West Scotland Dairy Farmer, Dumfries and Galloway Scottish National Farmers Union Regional Chair and member of NFUS Next Generation Committee. He has a particular interest in environment, air quality and sustainable farming.

For more information on the World Animal Protection Index visit