Since Boris Johnson was the leading protagonist for the Brexit vote and got into power on the back of the slogan ‘Get Brexit Done’, it is now imperative that this government secures trade deals with non-EU countries. The most important of which is, of course, the United States, with whom we have this so-called ‘special relationship’ which often feels more like the relationship between a dog and its owner rather than one on equal footing. Some large points of contention for this deal are healthcare, food and climate policy, all of which, if we were to adhere to American standards, would be a regression from EU laws and regulations.
In this article I want to focus specifically on the effects an American trade deal could have on the food on our plate. The US are supposedly looking to ‘liberate’ US-UK trade as a continuation of their neoliberal agenda that bemoans any type of regulation and puts the responsibility of health and safety into the hands of the market. They would like to see the replacement of public, non-profit accreditation bodies on food standards with private American firms who, let’s be honest, you would not want in charge of regulating the temperature of your shower let alone the food you ingest.
This is what an acceptance of American food standards in the UK would look like:
- Chlorinated chickens – Chickens are kept in filth that is so insanitary during their lives that they are soaked in chlorine or other chemicals after being butchered in order to kill any bacteria.
- Antibiotic and hormone pumped meat – Not only does this mean a horrendous quality of meat and a nauseating concoction of pharmaceuticals for humans to ingest but it also threatens the future effectiveness of antibiotics as a vital medicine. This practice has been banned by the EU since 1989.
- GM-processed foods – The US aim for a more ‘science-based’ approach to growing and processing food we eat which is shorthand for saying more chemicals, hence why the EU has been apprehensive about allowing this practice.
- More pus in your milk – The US allows double the amount of white blood cells in milk than the EU.
- More pesticides – Even vegans aren’t safe! The US allows higher amounts of pesticide residue on fruit and vegetables 72 of which are banned by the EU for their harmful effects.
- Unsafe baby food – A recent test of baby foods in the US found that 95% contained toxic metals, with 73% containing traces of arsenic. They also allow far higher levels of sugar.
- No more pasties – They want to get rid of geographically protected food such as Cornish pasties or Cumberland sausages – they would mass produce these products using chemicals in the US, put British farmers out of business and undercut the market.
- Race to the bottom – British farmers would no longer be able to compete with large American corporations undercutting the market thus they would in turn have to lower their quality and standards in order to remain in business.
- Bugs, hair and faeces – US producers are allowed to include up to 30 insect fragments in a 100g jar of peanut butter; as well as 11 rodent hairs in a 25g container of paprika; or 3mg of mammalian excreta (typically rat or mouse excrement) per each pound of ginger. The EU, however, does not allow the traces of any hair, excrement or insects in its food.
Our regulation on food quality is still not stringent enough and the quality of what we are eating is degrading, making us the second most obese nation in Europe after Malta. The last thing we need is the reintroduction of carcinogens, hormones and chemicals that we haven’t eaten in decades back into our diets. With wealth inequality increasing, the passing of this deal would affect poorer areas in more severe ways further increasing health inequalities between richer and poorer areas that has been highlighted as a pressing issue during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ultimately, it is repulsive to think that the government would even consider regressing on so many beneficial regulations on the health and safety of our food in return for the invasion of large American corporations and higher profit margins. Moreover, I lived in America for six months and, although they allow far lower standards of food quality, the prices of all food stuffs was extortionate. Grocery shopping in the USA was almost unaffordable for me; to buy fresh produce and cook every night became more expensive than eating out at the multitude of fast food and chain restaurants that occupied the streets next to me. It forces low income individuals and families into eating processed and unhealthy foods almost every day. This inevitably causes health problems and obesity that cannot be addressed because healthcare is far too expensive. It becomes a vicious cycle and it is one that is threatening the health of the UK with the possibility of this trade deal.
“It serves only to benefit large US corporations and the UK government in the long run with the general public losing out on both health and affordability.”
This, ultimately, shows that were our food standards to be lowered in order for a successful US trade deal, it would not even have the small benefit of making our food cheaper. It serves only to benefit large US corporations and the UK government in the long run with the general public losing out on both health and affordability.
So, how likely is this all to happen? It is integral to the success of this government to secure a trade deal with the USA as it was the basis of their election campaign. Thus, although the government has time and again claimed that it will refuse to regress on UK and EU food standards, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the government would be able to secure a deal that does not include the introduction of US food standards. The US are aware of the UK’s need to secure a trade deal for both economic security and for the government to save face, so they are incredibly unlikely to budge during these negotiations.
The election of Joe Biden could have a positive effect on this trade deal, but this will be largely unknown until next year. However, it is still unlikely as although he is most definitely the lesser of two evils, he cannot be looked upon as someone who will break the mould of the long line of US presidents bending over for powerful corporations and lobbyists.
It is, therefore, fundamental that we make it abundantly clear that we will not have our food standards, and indelibly, our health pillaged by powerful US corporations. We cannot rely on this government to do the right thing as time and time again they have proven their ineptitude and lack of care. It is instead up to the public to demonstrate that we will not accept this trade deal. Below are some petitions you can sign to help:
By Max Coleman
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