Tuesday, 19 March 2019
By Lisa O'Carroll

Food fight: doubts grow over post-Brexit standards

Chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef are already infecting the debate over a post-Brexit trade deal, with one of the US’s most senior diplomats dismissing the European Union’s “museum of agriculture” approach to food safety.

Health

The US ambassador, Woody Johnson, claimed fears over US food standards leading to lower quality food were “myths” and part of a “smear campaign” to cast American farming in the worst possible light.

 

US ambassador dismisses UK criticism over food standards

The environment secretary, Michael Gove, has pledged that food standards will be the same if not better after the UK leaves the EU, but campaigners are concerned that welfare and environmental protections could be jettisoned in the rush to strike a US trade deal.

On Wednesday, the leading Brexit supporter George Eustice, who resigned from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last week, wrote in the Guardian that the UK should not countenance signing any deal that would reduce food standards as it could “give free trade a bad name”. He called US agriculture “quite backward”.

Chlorinated chicken and the use of hormones in animals and animal feed, along with the use of pesticides and food colourants, remain among the top concerns of the Soil Association, which will launch an updated food risk list for US-UK trade talks later this week.

“UK public health and wildlife could be negatively affected if our food and farming standards are sacrificed in pursuit of a US trade deal,” said Rob Percival, the organisation’s head of policy. “UK farmers have been making positive strides in recent years, reducing farm antibiotic use and these efforts risk being undermined by a trade deal that floods the UK market with US meat.”

Food practices listed among the 10 risks to Britain in a US-UK trade deal by the Soil Association include:

 

Chlorinated chicken

In the US, farmers are allowed to use chlorine washes and other disinfectants to remove harmful bacteria that may have infected the birds during rearing and slaughter. The EU banned the practice 22 years ago, leading to a long-running dispute over imports of chicken from the US.

The US poultry sector has argued the ban in the EU is not based on science, but the EU is concerned that chlorine may compensate or mask poorer hygiene and animal welfare standards earlier in the food chain.

The European Food Safety Authority has concluded that “chemical substances found in poultry meat are unlikely to pose an immediate or acute health threat to consumers”, but a team of microbiologists from Southampton University found last year that some bacteria remained completely active after chlorine washing.

 

Antibiotics

The Soil Association report on risks to food in a US-UK trade deal says that the use of “antibiotics per animal in US farming is on average a shocking five times higher than in the UK”.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the gravest public health threats facing the world and investigations last year by the Food Safety and Inspection Service showed that powerful antibiotics were still being used despite new rules to curb their use and combat the spread of deadly superbugs.

Data from a US investigation seen by the Guardian showed that 13 separate antibiotics classed by the World Health Organization as “critically important” to human medicine were still being used in meat supply chains.

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