A NEW law is making its way through Westminster which has the power to change the standards that ensure the food and drink we import is safe, protects animal welfare and keeps Scotland’s hard-earned global reputation as a trusted quality producer.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill has shocked many because, in order to achieve its aim of removing EU law from UK legislation, the UK Government needs do little more than run down the clock.

The bill states it “will sunset the majority of retained EU law so that it expires on December 31, 2023. All retained EU law contained in domestic secondary legislation and retained direct EU legislation will expire on this date, unless otherwise preserved”. The irony is many of the 2417 laws which now could be lost in the sunset rush became EU law at the behest of the UK.

A total of 570 of those pieces of legislation relate to food, the environment and agriculture, such as pesticides in fruit and vegetables, or the dreaded chlorinated chicken.

The RSPB has called the bill “a deregulatory free-for-all where vital environmental protections are ripped up and public health is put at risk”.

READ MORE: 'Nowhere will be safe': RSPB in scathing warning over Tory 'attack on nature'

This is causing serious concern in the Scottish agencies which work to keep our food and drink safe. Geoff Ogle, chief executive of Food Standards Scotland, said: “If the standards are removed, especially without being discussed, or without strong food laws brought in to replace them, then we have a real problem.

“The research we did with consumers before Brexit was consistent in its result – people were clear they wanted standards to stay the same or to improve.”

There are many problems with the UK Government’s bill. One is Clause 15(5), which states explicitly that replacement legislation can only keep standards the same or lower than they currently are. Another is the potential for the devolved nations to have their laws overruled.

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Brendan O’Hara (above), the SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute, made this point in a recent Westminster debate. He said: “What happens if the Scottish Parliament decides it will stick by long-established best practice in the welfare and treatment of animals, but Westminster chooses to deregulate? Can he [then minister Dean Russell] give a cast-iron guarantee that the Scottish Parliament will be able to prevent animals whose provenance is unknown and whose welfare history is unaccounted for from entering the food chain?

“Can the minister guarantee that, should this government decide to ‘relax’ the regulations on the labelling of food packaging, but the Scottish Parliament decides to remain aligned to the EU’s rules, that this place, using the provisions in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, will not force labelling changes on Scotland and have Scottish consumers unwittingly subjected to chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-injected beef, genetically modified crops and animals of questionable provenance?”

This not only poses a significant issue for consumers, for businesses, it is yet another Brexit whammy.

“If the laws are ‘sunsetted’, businesses might suffer unintended consequences,” Ogle said. “If you are going to make changes, there needs to be time to engage with that process. Most food law is not ‘red tape’ but has come about through experience and science.

“If the standards are removed, especially without being discussed or having strong laws to replace them, we have a real problem.”

Food and Drink Federation Scotland’s chief executive officer David Thomson, agrees: “Scotland produces high-quality, tasty and safe food and drink that millions love to eat, both here and abroad. For the benefit of producers and consumers it is essential that governments across the UK ensure any changes to regulations don’t negatively impact on our food safety or undermine our access to valuable export markets.”

That last point is a reference to the fact that, in order to keep trading to the EU, Scotland’s producers need to keep standards aligned with the trading bloc, a practice often referred to as “convergence”.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) works to promote healthy eating and to protect consumers from food safety risks. Heather Kelman, the FSS chair, is very concerned about the lack of time being given to both the industry and politicians to go into the details of what is a huge piece of legislation.

She said: “We need good, clear food laws. We currently have good, clear food laws. We must maintain standards.”

Next Monday, the bill is due to begin going through the committee stages at Westminster. If you care about the safety and quality of the food on your plate, about animal welfare, the environment, the future of Scottish farming, our vital food and drink sector, now is the time to make your voice heard.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign