British lamb and beef farmers could suffer "irreversible damage" if the proposed zero tariff trade deal with Australia on imports of products including lamb and beef is agreed, says the NFU.

The government is aiming to agree the deal with Australia but there are concerns that British farmers would be unable to compete and that Australian farmers do not hold the same animal welfare standards.

The NFU is asking the government to stand up for Britain's farmers.

Following a meeting of the UK Farming Roundtable, which involves 19 farming bodies, NFU president Minette Batters said: “The government’s repeated commitments to safeguard our own standards and to not undercut UK farmers through unfair competition are encouraging, and we support their ambition to liberalise trade.

"We know that if we’re to open up the opportunities of new markets overseas for UK farmers, we will have to offer greater access to our own markets in return.

“However, this trade-off needs to be balanced, and we need to make sure concessions to our hugely valuable home market are not given away lightly.

"There is a very real risk that, if we get it wrong, UK farming will suffer irreversible damage rather than flourish in the way we all desire, to the detriment of our environment, our food security and our rural communities.

“These deals should showcase our credentials as a global leader in animal welfare standards, environmental protection and taking action to tackle climate change. And they should reinforce a domestic environment in which UK farmers are empowered to rise to these challenges, leading the way in climate friendly, high-welfare farming.

“The British government faces a choice.

"It must recognise that opening up zero tariff trade on all imports of products such as beef and lamb means British farming, working to its current high standards, will struggle to compete.

“Does Government lower standards here, which it says it won’t and a million people who signed our petition don’t want to see, or will it watch family farms go out of business when they are unable to compete?"

It is reported that there is a rift in Cabinet over the issue.

Environment Secretary George Eustice, well-known as a Cornish farmer, and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove are said to be opposed to Trade Secretary Liz Truss' and Brexit minister Lord Frost's plans for tariff-free access to Australian farmers.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The government is united in wanting to secure an ambitious free trade deal with Australia that benefits businesses across the UK.

“Any agreement will include protections for the agricultural industry and won’t undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards.”