FARMING leaders have welcomed the Government’s pledge to set up an independent trade and agriculture commission amid calls to protect UK food standards.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has been calling for an independent commission that reviews trade policy and makes sure that all food imports are held to the same standards expected of British farmers.

The organisation’s call comes amid ongoing fears that post-Brexit trade deals could undermine the UK’s food, animal welfare and environmental standards.

Organisations from the NFU to conservation groups have warned against allowing imports of food that would be illegal to produce here, with fears that farmers and standards could be undermined by products such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef.

Both such products, which have welfare implications for the animals, are banned in the UK, with legislation from the EU moving on to the British statute book.

In a letter to NFU president Minette Batters, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss sought to reassure farmers that trade deals must not compromise on high standards of food safety and animal welfare.

The Government agrees with the establishment of a trade and agriculture commission, which is time-limited and whose findings are advisory, she said.

Ms Truss said the commission should focus on policies the Government should adopt in free trade agreements so UK farmers do not face unfair competition, and high animal welfare and production standards are not undermined.

It should look at reflecting consumer interests, and those of developing countries, how to work with the World Trade Organisation to help push higher animal welfare standards across the world, and how to develop trade policy that opens up new export opportunities for UK agricultural industry, she said.

Ms Batters said the move is a “hugely important development”.

She said: “I am very pleased that the Government is taking concrete action to address the challenges of safeguarding our high food and farming standards by agreeing to set up a trade and agriculture commission, something we first called for over 18 months ago.

“We look forward to working with Government and other stakeholders in the days ahead on the commission’s terms of reference, to ensure that its work is genuinely valuable.

“In particular, it will be vital that Parliament is able to properly consider the commission’s recommendations and can ensure Government implements them effectively.”

She added that the NFU would continue to scrutinise trade negotiations with the US and other countries to make sure future trade deals work for British farmers and consumers, and said it is vital that Parliament has a strengthened role in that as well.