There have been a series of media reports suggesting that the Government is considering adopting a dual tariff approach to food standards to reach a trade deal with the US, which in turn would open the door to low quality food such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef.
US food imports
In addition to potentially undermining the UK’s farming industry, there are serious concerns that unregulated and cheaply produced US food imports will put pressure on livestock farmers to intensify their practices to compete. This would have a negative impact on animal welfare standards across the UK.
CIEH has already raised concerns about the timing of trade talks with the US as many of the relevant stakeholders and food organisations are busy helping their communities get through the Covid-19 crisis.
Michael Gove MP and Theresa Villiers MP, previous Secretary of States for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, had repeatedly asserted the Government’s firm commitment to maintaining the UK’s high food standards in any circumstance.
Despite this, an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to safeguard British standards and protect UK producers was defeated by the Government in the House of Commons.
“Despite repeated assurances from the Government, the mood does not look good for UK food standards and animal welfare. Government appears to be retracting on previous commitments,” said Debbie Wood, executive director, Membership and External Affairs, CIEH.
“Whilst a dual tariff system may promote better quality food entering the country, it would still be a backdoor for what we consider low quality food produce, such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef, pouring into our market.”
Wood added this is a clear public health issue and recent evidence suggests chlorine washing, a process used to deal with hygiene issues arising from intensive production, is not an effective disinfectant.
“This may help explain why rates on microbiological food poisoning are six times higher in the US than those in the UK. Nor should government lose sight of why the EU banned hormone treated beef in the first place, given the evidence that linked some such hormones as carcinogens,” she said.
“And it’s not just public health. Animal welfare is important to many people across our country. As such, we are anxious that any trade deal upholds these standards and does not see the UK trade away our cherished approach to animal welfare and environmental standards.
“There is a great deal at stake if negotiations are rushed and deliver a deal that undercuts hard-won British food standards.
“We are asking the Government to slow down trade talks with the US until such time that MPs, local authorities, and the food sector, are no longer inundated with responding to the Covid-19 emergency, so that negotiations can receive the scrutiny and attention they deserve.
“We have been working closely with a number of Peers in the House of Lords, who are equally passionate about maintaining our country’s food standards. When the Agriculture Bill receives its Second Reading today we know our concerns will be raised directly in the Chamber.
“We urge the Government to keep to their promises and to provide full assurances that low quality food will not be allowed into our country in order to secure trade deals.”