A CUMBRIAN farm leaders says he shares the same frustration as Labour Shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry who has launched a scathing attack on the government’s trade policy which, she says, will drive farmers out of business.

National Farmers Union Cumbrian council delegate and chair of Red Tractor Lamb and Beef committee, Alistair Mackintosh, said he was 'concerned' how the Government approached trade deals. While it was right to uphold the high standards of UK agriculture – something all farmers supported – he said this was being undermined by trade policy.

The Labour MP told an NFU fringe meeting at this week’s party conference in Brighton: “I have been shocked about how brazenly, callously and recklessly they have gone about trying to drive through zero-tariffs, zero-quotas, zero-standard deals with the world’s biggest agricultural exporters.”

Ms Thornberry said a “pragmatic” trade deal would include: Some level of tariffs, to account for different costs and environmental damage in other parts of the world; Quotas to allow the UK to meet its import needs without a free-for-all that would undermine farmers; Minimum production standards to ensure a level playing field.

Yet the government, in its dealings with Australia and now New Zealand, had ignored all of these considerations, she said.

“Those two precedents will leave us unable to argue for anything different when it comes to the US, Canada and Brazil. It is an act of economic, political and social folly,” she told the meeting.

Mr Mackintosh, a sheep and beef farmer from west Cumbria, said “The challenge for me is the standards of imported produce. The narrative tells us it’s about protecting our standards, yet we’re being asked to go toe-to-toe with every other producer in the world, who is not necessarily meeting those same standards. This could potentially be the biggest challenge facing us.”

He added that the UK should be using trade policy to drive higher standards in other parts of the world.

"As for driving farmers out of business, it is not just the trade policy that could do that, there are other factors too, like age and farm payments disappearing and being replaced by ELMS."

NFU President Minette Batters said: “British farmers produce some of the best food in the world. Not only is it delicious and nutritious, but it’s produced to incredibly high environmental, animal welfare, traceability, and food safety standards – something not every country is able to say.

“Yet, over the past few years, not enough importance has been placed on Britain’s food production. This has been all too clear as the country has watched its self-sufficiency drop from as high as 78% in the mid-80s to its current level of just 60 percent. As an island nation which is very well suited for quality food production, it would be a mistake to let that happen again and become even more reliant on the rest of the world to feed us.

“Delivering a comprehensive report into food security and taking appropriate action in response would show the government is serious and ambitious about boosting sustainable food production in Britain. This would not only help reduce the UK’s reliance on imports, which often fall below our own high standards of production, but also enable farmers to build the British brand overseas through trade.

“If our government truly backs the potential of British food and farming, the country could see huge benefits. British farmers could increase the industry’s economic contribution and provide more nutritious, affordable, climate-friendly British food for UK shoppers and people across the world, all while bolstering domestic and global food security.”

The report also showcases how the UK can reduce its reliance on food imports.