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MPs reject calls by campaigners to enshrine food safety in UK law

Farmers and food campaigners were defeated on Monday night in their attempts to enshrine high food safety and animal welfare practices in British law.



a tractor in front of a building: A demonstration by farmers outside the Houses of Parliament ahead of the vote.


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A demonstration by farmers outside the Houses of Parliament ahead of the vote.

Several prominent backbench Tory MPs rebelled against the government to vote for amendments to the agriculture bill that would have given legal status to the standards, but the rebels were too few to overcome the government’s 80-seat majority and the key amendment fell by 332 votes to 279 after an often impassioned debate.

The government argued that giving current standards legal status was unnecessary as ministers had already committed to ensuring that UK food standards would be kept in any post-Brexit trade agreements. However, critics fear that the lack of a legally binding commitment in the agriculture bill will allow future imports of sub-standard food that will undercut British produce and expose consumers to risk.

Kath Dalmeny, chair of the Future British Standards Coalition, said: “It’s dismaying that the government has opposed attempts to put into law its own commitment to maintain British food standards. It is perfectly possible to have high standards at home and sign trade deals with new trading partners who meet them. It’s what consumers have repeatedly said they want.”

The bill, with its defeated amendments, will now return to the House of Lords and there will be further chances this week for debate. But the government’s majority gives proponents of a tougher bill a hill to climb, despite a recent YouGov poll that showed nine out of 10 people want to protect British standards on food and animal welfare in trade deals.

Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, said: “We hope the Lords take this public mandate to deliver the Conservative manifesto commitment to maintain standards, especially after it was significantly backed by Conservative MPs. We call on peers to secure guarantees that the public and MPs are told upfront about any changes to standards that might happen as a result of trade deals, and that the final say on any changes will be a decision for our elected representatives.”

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The votes came as a Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 revealed the poor hygiene and welfare among livestock on intensive farms in the US. Although the government has given repeated assurances that chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef would not be imported to the UK under any trade deals, campaigners point out that banning these two products would still allow the import of many types of other food produced under conditions and with drugs, including antibiotics, that would be illegal in the UK.

Luke Pollard, the shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary, said: “The Conservatives have again broken their promise to British farmers and the public. No one wants lower quality food on our plates, but there

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An initiative from Germany’s Social Democrat labour minister to give people the right to work from home is facing opposition from chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and business groups, though a survey shows most workers like the idea.

The coronavirus pandemic has interrupted work flows in many companies in Europe’s largest economy, accelerating a trend to work partly from home and speeding up the digitisation of business organisation and communication.

But it has also created new problems such as working longer hours and pushing up stress levels, especially among parents juggling childcare and working from home.

Hubertus Heil from the co-governing, centre-left SPD told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday that his draft law would give employees the right to work from home or somewhere else at least 24 days per year if the profession and work flows allow.

With the draft law, Heil wants to increase job satisfaction among employees and avoid home working automatically leading to longer working hours.

Employers must ensure that employees record their entire working time at home, or else face a fine of up to €30,000.

In addition, accidents that happen while working from home should be regarded as work accidents which means the employer’s insurance must fully cover the costs.

A survey conducted by several economic institutes showed that roughly two thirds of German employees welcome the proposal for such a legal right.

But a spokeswoman of economy minister Peter Altmaier from Merkel’s conservatives said during a regular news conference that there were many unanswered questions and that Altmaier remained sceptical of the idea.

“Above all, we need less bureaucracy and not new state guarantees for everything,” the spokeswoman cited Altmaier as saying.

Merkel’s spokesman said the draft law would now be discussed between the labour ministry and the chancellery, adding that there were still a lot of issues to be resolved.

The VDMA engineering association said there was no need for a legal right to work from home.

“It only raises hopes that cannot be fulfilled in every case,” VDMA managing director Thilo Brodtmann said.

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