FARMERS have called for reassurance that the UK internal market proposals do not cause “a race to the bottom” on food standards – risking “the integrity of Scotland's food and drink industry”.

Fears have been raised that the UK Government proposals to set up a trading block within the UK once the EU transition period expires will tie nations to lower food standards than are currently enforced by EU law.

But the UK Government insists that all devolved governments have agreed to a common framework on food safety.

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Labour MSP Alex Rowley, addressing Holyrood’s finance and consitution committee, said: “I just worry for the future that this bill lays the ground for the view that the UK Government could do a trade deal with the USA, for example, and we would see a massive decline in standards around food, we would see animals being imported into this country.

“Does this not bring a real threat to farming, to food and drink production across this country if there is a race to the bottom?”

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Jonnie Hall, director of policy and member services for NFU Scotland, warned farmers will need reassurance over the risk.

He said: “One outstanding concern that we have in all of this and we need to have reassurance around this is that the use of the mutual recognition and non-discrimination principles in areas where there are no common frameworks agreed or implemented, and we know that to be the case.

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“We can’t allow those to operate in such a way that it does allow a race to the bottom by opening up the doorway to food that is produced to a different standard – whether it’s animal health and welfare, whether it’s environmental, being introduced to the UK market but then being able to move within the EU market across all devolved administrations at that level.

“I think that is definitely a risk to Scottish agriculture and equally the integrity of Scotland’s food and drink industry which is built on very high standards. It’s something we need to safeguard very carefully indeed.”

Mr Hall said part of the Bill could be replaced with voluntary frameworks.

Such an approach has already been suggested by the Scottish Government and he said this could be a “better approach”.

Mr Hall said: “We have talked about common frameworks and their governance and their role in dispute resolution for at least two years now, if not three. 

"We still find ourselves here at the eleventh hour having almost the gun to the head situation of looking at a UK Internal Market Bill, when in fact if we had put the time and effort into developing common frameworks properly in the first place then the need for some elements of the UK Internal Market Bill would not be the same.”