Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Post Brexit US Food Standards Will Only be for the Poorest Britons

The environmental campaigning organisation Greenpeace has uncovered a secret plan by political think tanks from the UK and US to influence deregulation of Britain’s food standards after we leave the European Union (EU). The plan was published accidentally on the website of the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) which is coordinating the network of transatlantic think tanks, but has since been taken down. Greenpeace have published the document themselves and you can access the plan here.

The idea is that these talks and this plan will form the “blueprint” for the real negotiations between the British and US governments. The groups involved even have close links with Liam Fox, the current Tory International Trade Secretary, and claim future talks would be attended by an official from Fox’s Department. Fox, has previously told the IFT that his department is “a very, very willing partner in your great and wonderful quest.”

According to the documents, the shadow trade talks are set to include 10 leading right-wing think tanks from the UK and US, including the London-based Institute for Economic Affairs and the Legatum Institute, which has recommended scrapping the EU’s ‘precautionary principle’ to boost trade. On the US side, the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation are listed as participants. The Cato Institute, which was founded by billionaire oil refiners, the Koch brothers, will write the first draft of the “ideal” agreement.

The Koch brothers have made significant financial contributions to libertarian and conservative think tanks and have donated primarily to Republican Party candidates running for office. They actively fund and support organizations that contribute significantly to Republican candidates, and in particular that lobby against efforts to expand government's role in health care and combating global warming. In January 2011, Rolling Stone magazine included the Koch brothers on its list of the top twelve people blocking progress on global warming.

The IFT report says a shift away from the EU’s approach would mean that “US exporters of agricultural produce, beef, for instance, would have a brand new market to sell to”. Imports of US beef are currently restricted by the EU because of the widespread use of growth hormones and anti-biotics that the European Commission deems unsafe. 

This type of regulatory change would also allow for imports of chlorinated chicken, again banned under EU rules. This is because of the precautionary principle, applied by the EU to food standards. Basically, these practices have to be proved safe, before they are allowed to be sold to consumers. The Council of Europe has said that this method can “lead to the formation of chloroorganic compounds, several of which are persistent, bioaccumulable or carcinogenic”. In other words it can cause cancer.

According to the Guardian a spokesperson for the IFT said “mutual recognition of standards, which we do mention quite a bit, would not require the UK to move away from the precautionary principle at all, or to change its standards, regulations or laws in any way. If consumers don’t want to buy products made to different standards to our own, they will see the US flag on the packet and not buy it,” she said.

You can see the outlines of this plan from this statement. There has been quite a lot of negative comment in the British media about chlorinated chicken, so the British government will have to sell it to the public, which will probably be cautious about such produce. But by labelling the product, although how clearly this would have to be would be part of the negotiated deal, it would allow the government to say, if people don’t want to buy this produce then they would have the choice not to.

There is a reason why the US farming industry regulations allow these methods, it is because it increases yields and reduces costs, which to some extent can be passed onto consumers. If there is a choice of reasonably priced alternatives, I think British people will avoid US produce, but that is not a given, since food from the EU will likely be more expensive. Australia and New Zealand would want to export more food to the UK, but the geographical distances make it more expensive, not to mention increasing carbon emissions.

So, what we end up with, under this plan is that US food will be much cheaper than British or other countries produce, unless they adopt the same practices, so there would be a two tier food market. For those who can afford the food under existing EU regulations they won’t need to eat it, but for the poorest households there will be no real choice but to consume this type of potentially unsafe produce.

None of this will solve our border congestion problems, or the Irish border one, but if we really do disregard these problems, the future could look very like the one the IFT is planning. I doubt the likes of Boris Johnson will be partaking in US labelled food produce, because he won’t need to.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree and am furious that we won't have a lot of choice. The only fightback available is pushing the local food scenario and that has its own limitations, not least the sell-off of British farmland to housing developers.