US foods previously rejected by the EU could soon be on their way to the UK. This includes beef from cattle implanted with growth hormones, chlorine-washed chicken, and unlabelled genetically modified (GM) foods.
As the UK prepares for Brexit and starts looking at new trade deals with the US, Bob Young, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, has made it crystal clear that any US trade deal struck by Theresa May would be contingent on the accepting these imports.
“We are not going to sign anything that the chicken farmers of Delaware don’t like!” is what Nick Clegg claims the outgoing US Vice-President, Joe Biden, said to him.
The former Liberal Democrat leader added: “The chicken farmers of Delaware wash their chicken flesh with some sort of chlorine. It’s bleached – bloody horrible stuff – which is not allowed in the EU”
“You tell me, but I suspect the good shoppers of Waitrose and Sainsbury’s and others might be a little bit shocked if, suddenly, they are having to eat this slightly white, chlorine-washed American chicken flesh.”
Surely British farmers, who have worked for decades to stricter EU standards shaped by consumers’ demand for safe, natural food, want to retain these standards?
Martin Haworth, director of strategy at the National Farmers Union (NFU), is more concerned about ensuring “an even playing field”. This implies that he wants British farmers to be able to introduce US style industrial feedlots, hi-tech poultry plants and vast GM prairies.
It has been argued that chemical cleansing encourages faster, sloppier practices on the slaughter line. A 2007 study by European consumer group BEUC found 83 per cent of US chicken carried harmful bugs, despite being treated with chlorine.
Currently under the European system, British farmers try to remove harmful bugs all the way along the food chain including eliminating them from their flocks.
“Here in Europe we say chlorine is very bad for people, so let’s forbid it,” says Frans Fransen, owner of IFT Poultry, a poultry industry consultancy based in Belgium. He adds: “Chlorine removes the superficial bacteria, not what’s hidden in the meat.”
In 2013 Washington Post reporter Kimberly Kindy published a disturbing look at the possible human toll of heavy chemical use at U.S. poultry factories:
“In interviews, more than two dozen USDA inspectors and poultry industry employees described a range of ailments they attributed to chemical exposure, including asthma and other severe respiratory problems, burns, rashes, irritated eyes, and sinus ulcers and other sinus problems.”
As well as chlorine, US meat is sometimes washed in acid.
And don’t even get me started on the use of growth hormones and antibiotics.
Don’t eat meat? You should still be concerned.
82 pesticides that are banned in the EU on health and environmental grounds are used in the US.
Among these 82 pesticides are permethrin, the broad spectrum insecticide that is classed as a likely carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor, and atrazine, a herbicide thought to affect the immune system, which has also been linked to birth defects.
A US-UK trade deal opens the door to imports of American foods grown using these pesticides. The US would probably also lean on the UK government to relax our EU-set “maximum residue levels” for pesticides in food.
No GM crops are grown commercially in the UK and foods made using GM ingredients must be clearly labelled under EU law.
However, derivatives of GM maize and soya are in thousands of processed foods in the US and do NOT need to be labelled as GM.
The only GM foods to be easily found on British shelves are sweet imported American junk foods, and cheap cooking oils.
Processed foods in the United States typically contain many more additives and hi-tech ingredients than equivalent products in Europe too.
This includes additives that are banned in Europe, such as petroleum-derived food colourings.
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