THERE is a clarity in the air just now, even in town, that I can’t remember seeing since my youth. The views to Scotland’s skylines have a crisp, clear definition, no planes or vapour trails in the sky, no exhaust clouds on the roads and the air tastes fresher and cleaner than ever.

People are changing because nature has forced us to. We have changed how we shop, how we interact with each other, how we appreciate the value of the real “key worker”, and how families spend time together. These are blessings not to be dismissed or forgotten once this deadly coronavirus outbreak is under some sort of control.

Farming families right across Scotland have, to a great extent, been totally unfazed by the outbreak. Lambing, calving and spring sowing pretty much isolates farming communities at this time of year anyway. It was always so, as farmers work to produce what we have taken for granted until recently.

Food is a daily necessity. It’s a ridiculously simplistic thing to say, but we’re all guilty of assuming we can buy whatever we want or need – until it’s not available. We’ve all just had a very small insight into what shortages look like and we have not liked it. That’s something we really need to remember.

Domestic food production is a vital part of any society, and it is a government’s fundamental duty to protect its citizens from harm, hunger, thirst and homelessness. Which begs the question, why did the Tory Government single--handedly vote down an amendment in the new UK Agriculture Bill that would have stopped lower standard foods being imported here?

Conservative MP Neil Parish, chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, tabled the amendment. The perception that its sole function was to protect farmers incomes was, to an extent, correct. But safe, quality, sustainably-produced food, which enhances our environment, is something we all benefit from.

There is no such thing as cheap food. If it doesn’t cost much money, its hidden costs are far greater in terms of welfare or environmental factors. More seriously, our own health can be jeopardised by the kind of food we eat. We can choose to be blind to the realities of cheap food, but we cannot ignore the impact our decisions have on our entire way of life.

Mass staff shortages in processing facilities and slaughterhouses in the US led to fewer facilities working at capacity, which in turn caused disruption in the supply chain and price hikes for their domestic market. But, tragically, it also pointed to the massive backlog of stock to be slaughtered, particularly chickens and pigs. Unwilling to feed and house the animals, they turned to mass slaughter, and burial of an unwanted product.

“For poultry and pigs, they allow animals to be killed by simply shutting off the ventilation system fans (heat or carbon dioxide may be added). The animals die of hyperthermia, baking and suffocating over a period of several hours. The industry generally uses the ventilator shutdown method or a water-based foam, the consistency of firefighting foam, that flows up and over, suffocating birds in seven to 15 minutes.”

I’m guessing that most people in this country will find that brutal system utterly abhorrent, but it should be remembered that it is the US that the Tory Government are currently negotiating a comprehensive trade deal with.

Agricultural produce is very high on the agenda for Washington. They want access to our market-s. They want no food labelling restrictions and they don’t want tariffs. The Tory refusal to accept Neil Parish’s New Clause 2 amendment has just made these US aims a lot easier, and when you combine that with reports that Liz Truss is set to lower tariffs on US agricultural produce, it’s very easy to see the direction of travel that this Tory Government is taking.

People may find protecting farmers incomes is not one of their personal priorities but it should be remembered that, without farmers, there is no domestic food supply. That then makes us reliant on imports from countries with far lower welfare and safety standards than we currently enjoy. But, even more importantly, even mass production systems can hit crisis times and create food shortages, as is currently happening in the US.

If there are domestic shortages in these countries, what happens to the price of imports, supposing we were able to secure any at all?

Given that we have a top quality industry already in place which supports our nation’s food security, allowing it to be destroyed by Tory ideology and American imports makes absolutely no sense at all.

From a Scottish perspective, we have six Tory MPs who have rural populations of varying sizes. David Mundell actually has the biggest rural constituency in the UK. But every one of them voted against the amendment to protect our food standards. That, by anybody’s reckoning, is a dereliction of duty to the constituents that they represent, both in terms of farming families, and consumers.

There were 22 rural constituency MPs in England who voted against the Government, clearly believing that Johnson’s promises of maintaining standards must be fulfilled. If English Tory MPs can work for their constituents interests, why can’t the Scottish ones?

If these trade deals are allowed to continue on their current trajectory, it’s very unlikely that many of the high quality and welfare standards that we take for granted will be viable. Farmers here will have to adopt far lower standards, or go out of business, and if that happens, ultimately it is us who pay the price.