Consumers could be exposed to American farming practices banned by the EU.
Ever since being back in the UK, I have felt some security in the fact that we were part of the EU and therefore unethical farming practises such as banned pesticides, chlorine-washed chicken and genetically modified food (GM) were something that would not be allowed on British soil. With our exit from the EU and our race to sign a trade deal with the US, its seems likely that as part of any trading deal we will be forced to import US food. With the arsenal of chemicals used in mass production, this is troubling because in most instances the food does not have to be labelled.
“Those of us who want to eat safe, healthy food awoke to a nightmare on Tuesday, a chilling interview on Radio 4’s Today programme. Bob Young, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, made it crystal clear that any US trade deal struck by Theresa May would be contingent on the UK public stomaching imports of US foods that it has previously rejected: beef from cattle implanted with growth hormones, chlorine-washed chicken, and unlabelled genetically modified (GM) foods.
Wiping the sleep from our eyes, we hoped it was just a bad dream, but the grim reality worsened. Martin Haworth, director of strategy at the National Farmers Union (NFU), was up next. Surely our own farmers, who have worked for decades to stricter EU standards shaped by consumers’ demand for safe, natural food, would reiterate their commitment to keeping them? Not a bit of it. Haworth’s only concern was that if such controversial American products were allowed into the country, British farmers should be able to use the same production techniques to ensure “an even playing field”. Do you find it credible that British farmers could beat the US’s vast industrial feedlots, hi-tech poultry plants and vast GM prairies at their own game? No matter, the NFU does.
Later, at prime minister’s questions, the Scottish National party MP Angus Robertson pressed May for the reassurance that everyone who cares about food quality and safety badly wants to hear. Would she tell Trump she wasn’t prepared to lower our food safety standards? Judging from May’s evasive reply – she would improve trade through prosperity, growth, jobs, putting UK interests and values first – it seems entirely possible that she would bin existing food rules in order to clinch a deal.
For decades, the food on our plates has been protected – albeit inadequately – by virtue of our EU membership. Food on British shelves differs in critical ways from the US equivalent. Citizens in Europe loudly opposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that sought to impose on us the US “Big Food” model. But now it looks as if Trump and May could usher in a bilateral version of TTIP with bells on.
So the nightmare is real, although there is a ray of hope. Post-Brexit, we can’t continue to sell British food to mainland Europe unless it meets EU standards. And losing concrete business with the EU in the vain hope of gaining some notional trade advantage with the US sounds like a deal-breaker.”
Photo: To make them grow faster, US dairy cows are regularly implanted with hormones that are banned in the EU. Photograph: Tony C French/Getty Images