By Diane Cooke
High growth hormone beef, chlorine-washed chickens, GMOs, and even lamb produced at high volume and relatively low cost will likely be part of any US-UK trade deal. And that would spell disaster for British farmers.
According to Global Justice Now and Compassion in World Farming, some key differences between British and US farming methods include the use of chemical washes such as chlorine, the use of growth hormones in animal feed, GM foods sold without labelling, and US use of EU-banned pesticides.
Currently, strict EU legislation bans the import of cheaply produced American products such as hormone-treated meat and genetically modified vegetables.
Britain will decide whether those bans stay in place after Brexit, but Washington appears determined that any trade deal will hinge on the UK scrapping them.
The Guardian writes that the EU and the UK are no paragons when it comes to farming practices. Both pork and chicken sold in the UK are infected with resistant superbugs. It is still legal in the UK to dose chickens with fluoroquinolones, powerful antibiotics that save many human lives: a practice even the US has banned.
The stack ’em high, sell ’em low model of farming cannot be sustained without mass medication
But in other respects the US, makes UK and EU methods seem virtuous. The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics revealed that the US uses on average roughly five times as many antibiotics per animal as the UK does.
Why? Because the stack ’em high, sell ’em low model of farming there, in which vast numbers of animals are reared in appalling conditions in megafarms, cannot be sustained without mass medication. The animals are weaned so young, are so debilitated and so crowded that extreme methods are required to keep them alive and growing.
Putting farming practices aside, The Telegraph writes that in a rush to secure a deal with the United States, British agriculture may be traded off to secure a better agreement for the financial services sector, according to the International Trade committee in a report to the Commons.
A trade agreement with the United States will involve a lot of compromises including a potential “agriculture for services” trade-off, the committee’s report concluded.
Angus MacNeil, the chair of the committee, warned the Government against making a “catastrophic error” by rushing into negotiations with the United States without a “comprehensive trade strategy” in place.
Sir Peter Westmacott, who served in Washington during the Obama era between 2012 and 2016, told Business Insider that Trump's administration would force Britain to open up its markets to cheap American meat as the "price" of any new bilateral trade deal with Washington.
"The moment you've got Delaware chickens being sold across the United Kingdom, and mass produced, hormone-enhanced beef and lamb competing with our niche farmers in the Welsh and Scottish highlands, many of our farmers and poultry producers will be under severe threat," said Westmacott.
"The imported chicken may not taste very good and it may be chlorine-washed, but it will be very competitively priced," he said. "That is going to be the price of a free trade agreement."
And if that is the case, the strong British farming lobby will have a fight to the death on its hands.