Take a brief glance along Tesco’s confectionery aisle and you’re in for a shock. But why? A look at the information on the various US imports reveals that these treats ‘may have an adverse effect on the activity and attention of children’, contain various flavourings and colourings such as ‘Brilliant Blue’ and ‘Sunset Yellow’, and are ‘produced from Genetically Modified Organisms’.
Whilst legal and highly regulated by the EU, we should worry about this becoming the UK’s new food standard, if we do end up striking a trade deal with the US post-Brexit.
In a document published earlier this year, the US Trade Representative laid out the many grievances they have with food and product standards in the EU.
They also made clear what a trade deal with the US would involve. The listed prerequisites included the scrapping of EU labelling standards on food and cosmetics, a relaxation in the use of crops for biofuels, and less regulation relating to animal welfare. These are standard US requirements for any trade deal they seek to negotiate.
For example, washing chickens with chlorine – a hazardous process – could become the norm, if the UK decides to make a deal with our ally across the pond. The scrapping of regulations pertaining to agriculture and food is dangerous both to the environment and to our health.
Relaxing labelling requirements should greatly concern consumers, who have the right to know what they are feeding their families. Getting rid of some EU requirements, such as ensuring Cumberland sausages, Cornish ice-cream, and the like are indeed from those places, seems minor, but can have a major impact on the local economy of these areas.
A fall in food standards is a fall in quality and a deviation from the purpose of food – which should be both enjoyable and nutritional. Reducing food to its mere chemical components and ignoring all potential health concerns is not the approach we should take. This is an approach the UK government should rule out.
Aside fom chlorine washed chickens, there are many other US industry practices that threaten us in the UK. For example, the use of steroids, some of which are carcinogenic, is banned in the EU but commonly used in the US cattle industry.
Similarly, some herbicides such as atrazine, an endocrine disrupter which has been found to cause breast and prostate cancer, are allowed in the US but are banned in the EU. Clearly, the Environmental Protection Agency, FDA and USDA have vastly different standards than those we’ve come to accept in the UK.
Perhaps the reason behind this disparity in standards is that in the US private companies greatly influence these public bodies.
These publicly-funded bodies, founded to look out for consumer and environmental welfare, are colluding with corporations such as Monsanto, a large agrochemical firm in the US specialising in GMOs and herbicides.
Sustain, a group who advocate for better farming practices, found that there are ten times the level of food poisoning in the US than in the UK. The effect of the potential carcinogens is one that will take longer to materialise but is nevertheless extremely concerning.
A trade deal with the US, in which we will most likely be asked to compromise on these standards, will likely adversely affect low income families – those who cannot afford to go to Wholefoods and pay the premium to buy organic and those in rural areas who do not have the choice.
It is absolutely crucial that we maintain pressure on our government if we seek to avoid this.