BY JAMIE FOSTER
The EU is trying to set up barriers to a UK/US trade deal by claiming that US food standards fall far below UK standards. This is a claim made by the US Ambassador to the UK speaking on the Today programme. It is a line that is being touted in the press recently. The NFU President Minette Batters said that US Standards fell below UK standards and warned that any trade deal should not result in a lowering of UK standards. George Eustice the former farming minister also said that US standards were backwards in some cases.
It is time for some myth busting in this area.
Firstly, the idea of trading with countries that have lower food standards than us. We already do this. Although the EU regulations are supposed to apply across Europe, their enforcement is not consistent. This results in some EU states having lower standards than us, but nonetheless we have been trading with them. In addition we have been trading with Brazil, New Zealand and African countries that all have different food standards to ours.
Secondly, the myth that the US has lower standards than we have. It is often stated that the US use chlorinated washes on their chickens because they have lower standards of husbandry. This is not true. They use antimicrobial washes because they have a zero tolerance to microbial contamination of their meat. Antimicrobial washes ensure that their meat leaves the factory with zero contamination. The antimicrobial washes are not harmful to human health. They have been using them in the States on meat for over twenty five years with no complaints about effects on health. In this country we already eat salads that have similar antimicrobial washes.
The reason why people in this country are so concerned about US imports is that they are cheap. Cheap food can only benefit the consumer. The government will have to strike a balance between protecting the interests of farmers and consumers. The farmers will have the added bonus of access to the huge US market.
It is not a good idea to talk down the advantages of a good trade deal with the US. This is one of the opportunities that Brexit affords us. Increased trade with the US could be for the benefit of all. A no deal Brexit gives us the opportunity to get on with forging trade deals for ourselves. Food standards should be no barrier to a trade deal with the US. The EU has set a huge amount of regulation for the food producing sector but the sheer volume of regulation does not in itself translate into high standards. Meat production is based around visual inspection of carcasses looking for visible contaminants. This is a century old system which is no longer fit for purpose.
In order to do a trade deal we need to step away from the myth that US food standards trail behind ours. We need to use Brexit to free ourselves from the yoke of EU regulation and allow antimicrobial washed meat. We need to allow our producers to use antimicrobial washes to get around the problem of food borne pathogens. There is no scientific case against their use. It is merely an aesthetic objection from those who do not like the sound of antimicrobial washes.
It is very important that we don’t allow talk of food standards to derail the possibility of a trade deal with the US. The opportunity to benefit the consumer with cheap food and benefit the farmers with access to the US market is too good to miss out on. We need to ensure that the language we use doesn’t come from Euro chauvinism. The EU is a protectionist organisation. We need to ensure that we don’t simply inherit the protectionist instincts of the EU when we leave.
We need to keep a steady eye on our politicians and others in the lead up to Brexit who may be tempted to use the opportunity of a trade deal to talk down the US food industry. The US approach to food regulation is every bit as scientific as ours and should not be underestimated. The US should become a very serious trading partner and the last thing that we need is to put up unnecessary barriers to trading with them.