THE government’s determination to sign a free-trade agreement with Australia has received widespread condemnation from a farming industry united in anger at the proposals this past month, says Red Tractor Livestock Board Chairman Alistair Mackintosh.

Despite farmers warning the government that such an agreement could cause irreparable damage, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears undeterred and is ploughing ahead with a deal that will ultimately remove tariffs and quotas.

“The farming sector in the UK is full of differing opinions and approaches – and in my opinion it is the richer for it,” said Red Tractor Livestock Board Chairman Alistair Mackintosh, a sheep and beef farmer from West Cumbria.

“However, there is one thing most of us have had in common this past month: anger at our government’s single-minded drive to sign a free-trade agreement with Australia.

“If this deal is rushed through without the appropriate safeguards being employed, the entire British farming industry is at risk of being betrayed by the very institution designed to protect it.”

The deal would make it easier for Australia to export products such as lamb and beef to the UK.

However, farmers are concerned that any deal would fail to take into account the world-beating standards British farmers adhere to – particularly those in the Red Tractor scheme.

“As livestock chairman for Red Tractor, I spend a lot of my time championing the standards British farmers maintain, day in, day out,” Alistair, who farms 1,500 breeding ewes and 100 cattle at Ravenglass, said.

“For 20 years we have worked closely with animal welfare experts, vets, agronomists and the entire supply chain to ensure that whenever you buy a product with the Red Tractor logo, it is traceable, safe and farmed with care.

“All this work to build a solid foundation of trust could be severely undermined if the government continues down this path.”

Great Britain and Australia are vastly different in their approach to farming, operating from opposite ends of the size and scale index.

In Australia, farms with more than 400 head of cattle make up 82 percent of the country’s total beef herd, with 30 percent having more than 5,4001.

To put that into perspective, the average beef cattle herd size in the UK is just 272.“Australian farmers also use products which British livestock producers are prevented from accessing such as hormone growth promoter,” Alistair said. “The government has promised that this beef will not enter the UK market, but whether or not that pledge is upheld in the long term is anyone’s guess.

“Use of feed additives and plant protection products that are banned in the UK is widespread, as is the use of antibiotics as growth promoters.When it comes to competing - and make no mistake about it, this would be a competition and an unfair one at that – all of this leaves British farmers severely disadvantaged.”

Ten leading UK green groups including the WWF and Greenpeace have also pointed out to the government that such a deal undermines its own pledge to support a shift to sustainable farming and green global supply chains as Australia are “laggards on climate and nature”

“All this sacrifice, just to add 0.02 percent to GDP over the next 15 years,” Alistair said. “We can only hope that the government sees sense and decides to put the interests of British farmers and consumers first, before it sets a dangerous precedent for future trade deals.”

Farms of over 5,400 head of cattle account for 30 percent of the country's beef cattle. Farms with 400-5,400 head of cattle account for 52 percent of its beef cattle. By contrast, the average beef cattle herd in the UK is 27 animals.

The chief executives of 10 leading UK green groups, including Sustain and the WWF, recently wrote to the government describing Australia as a "laggard" on global climate action.They said a tariff-free deal would force UK farmers to compete with more environmentally destructive farming methods.

Red Tractor is the UK’s largest farm and food standards scheme, covering animal welfare, food safety, traceability and environmental protection. Its logo applied to product packaging demonstrates to consumers food and drink that has been produced to high quality standards across the whole length of the food chain