You may well have seen online and in our newsletter that Boris Johnson and MPs recently voted down an amendment to maintain British standards on future trade deals and imports. This is a potential disaster for British agriculture, environment, and the health of the British people. As Jamie Oliver has written in his letter to Boris Johnson– ‘I believe you’re about to seriously undermine public health and unpick the delicate patchwork quilt of farmers and food producers who are the backbone of this country.’
Now that we have left the EU, Britan no longer has to abide by the rules that it has in place to protect people from harmful food processes, like washing chicken in chlorine, genetically modifying food, or pesticides that have been proven to cause humans harm. This means that our government is able make up its own rules on what can be imported and fed to the public, regardless of the health implications. Because of the recent vote, American agribusiness will be allowed to sell goods in the UK even if they do not comply with the same production standards as British farmers – as long as they pay a tariff to do so. This means that there will be food on our shelves that would be illegal for the UK to produce.
The implications of this are huge – Jamie Oliver described the decline in the quality of our food as a ‘race to the bottom’ and that’s exactly what it will be. Our farmers will not be able to compete with the cheaper food being imported and will therefore have to cut corners to try to do so. Farms are already heavily subsidised in this country because of the cheap food culture that supermarkets have created – so imagine the increase in subsidies (provided by taxes) that will have to go to our farmers to cover their further losses.
There will be an impact on our health too – Non government organisations have pointed out that the chlorine washing of chicken by US farmers is used as an alternative to keeping facilities clean – chlorine is part of a processing method that makes up for poorer welfare standards on poultry farms that have sacrificed hygiene for increased production. The US hygiene standards are far lower than British standards (for example, US producers are allowed to include up to 30 insect fragments in a 100g jar of peanut butter, 11 rodent hairs in a 25g container of paprika, or 3mg of mammal excrement per each pound of ginger). To compare, the EU guidelines allow zero foreign bodies in any food. In the USA, some animals are treated with hormones to increase the worth of the meat and to make animals cheaper to raise. The main reason that Britain has banned the hormone-enhancement of animals is for animal welfare reasons, however excess hormones (like the ones in hormone-fed beef) have been proven to cause tumours and there is evidence to suggest that eating hormone-enhanced meat can increase the risk of cancer in humans. The USA allows 82 different pesticides that are banned in the EU and UK due to impacts on both health and the environment. Food that is grown with these pesticides would be sold on our shelves.
The potential impact on our health has a knock-on effect to the NHS, who, most likely, will experience extra strain on the system due to health issues. It has been suggested that the Covid19 virus was passed to humans through the food chain – we should be learning from our mistakes rather than introducing new potential hazards into our communities. Remember the beginning of the lockdown? So many of us experienced difficulties at the beginning of the pandemic, and felt real desperation and fear (that we experienced first hand at Greener Greens speaking to people who were calling us up every day, unable to get any food in the supermarkets and were desperate for a delivery company that wasn’t already at capacity) about sourcing food for their families. Even now as we near the end of the lockdown, the Coronavirus is a very real threat to many people. Now is not the time to be making it more difficult to have access to healthy food that can support the immune system, or local produce that has total traceability. What’s more, we’ll be threatening the future of our farmers and food producers who, despite extraordinary challenges, have worked so hard to keep us fed throughout the Covid-19 crisis
I haven’t even covered the impact on our environment, which is already under stress from intensive farming. The need to compete with cheap imported food will only increase this stress, not to mention stretch the animal welfare standards of British livestock as farmers cut corners to make ends meet.
There is a real campaign by small farmers in America at the moment. As conditions in large meat and produce plants worsen. Wayne Pacelle (co-founder of the Humane Society of the United States) succinctly described the society’s four goals – “Less cruelty. More husbandry. Fewer animals. More farmers to care for them”
Less cruelty: “We are deeply distressed by the industrialization of agriculture, where animals have been moved from outdoor settings where they can feel soil beneath their feet and the sun on their backs.” Instead, they are “confined in cages and crates barely larger than their body”.
More husbandry: “We want to value farmers who are actually farming, and tending to the animals.” He quoted a farmer who told him that “the animals on his farm have just one bad day.”
Fewer animals: “We can’t responsibly raise nine billion animals in this country for food.” (Think about what would happen if that number were to increase to cater for Britain too.)
More farmers: “What we’re trying to do is connect people to their food, to make responsible choices.”
We in the UK, and certainly at Greener Greens, campaign for the exact same things. By allowing this trade deal to go ahead in its current form, we risk not only jeopardising our own values, but sidelining the fight of the small, independent farmers overseas.
The vote down of this amendment is a disaster – and who will it affect the most? The poorest in our society, who do not have the luxury of choice as some do, and will always have to settle for the cheapest option despite the negative impact on their health. Once again, the most vulnerable in our society will be the ones who suffer – but not Boris Johnson or his MPs – they probably don’t shop at Aldi.
Please sign the petition to protect our food supply chain – then email your local MP (the link does it all for you). Fighting this will, in the long run, benefit our local economy, our environment and the health of our loved ones. Businesses like ours are at serious risk of disappearing, and once they’re gone it will be hard for them to come back.