THE SOIL ASSOCIATION has released a report on the potential food safety risks posed by potential free trade deals with the US following Brexit.
The preliminary steps towards a UK/US trade deal are currently being taken. Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox MP has recently opened preliminary discussions with US officials to consider potential opportunities and risks for the negotiations. Much press emphasis has been placed on chlorine-washed chicken, but there are a host of other regulatory divergences that could undermine UK food standards.
The report warns that a range of products produced under lower safety and welfare standards than those in force either in Britain or the EU could pose a risk to both animal AND human health, as well as damaging British agriculture’s integrity and viability.
Some of the key differences between UK and US production – hormone-treated beef, GM crops and chlorinated chicken – are becoming increasingly understood by British consumers.
The report highlights a number of other areas where products imported from the US could be produced under significantly different standards to our own: this includes the inclusion of food colourants that have been withdrawn from the UK, the use of the herbicide Atrazine that has previously been linked with human health risks, and the sale of chicken litter as animal feed which was banned by the EU in 2001.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows a number of steroid hormone drugs for use in beef production. Cattle producers use hormones because they allow animals to grow larger more quickly on less feed, thus reducing production costs. Hormone treated beef has been banned in the EU since 1989. The 2003 EU scientific review concluded that the hormone estradiol-17β was carcinogenic. The US imposed retaliatory tariffs, which were removed when the EU agreed to allow non-hormone treated beef from the US access to EU markets. President Trump re-imposed the tariffs last year.
In the US, chicken litter (a rendered down mix of chicken manure, dead chickens, feathers and spilled feed) is marketed as a cheap feed product, particularly for cattle. The cost of chicken litter is lower than corn and soy due to the high levels of industrial broiler chicken production in the US. In the US, the use of poultry litter in cattle feed is unrestricted. The use of chicken litter has been banned in the EU since 2001 following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and BSE. These diseases were attributed to the inclusion of animal protein in industrial animal feed.
Atrazine is estimated to be the second most heavily used herbicide in the US with 73.7 million pounds used in 2013.
It was applied on more than half of all corn crops, and up to 90 percent of sugar cane. Atrazine is a potent endocrine disruptor and reduces immune function in both wildlife and laboratory rodents. The chemical has also been found to possibly induce breast and prostate cancer. Despite these findings, the EPA still allows its use in US agriculture.
The EU banned atrazine due to its public health risks and its polluting impact on waterways.
In the United States, products that include Yellow 5 and 6, Red 3 and 40, Blue 1 and 2, Green 3 and Orange B are available for purchase and do not require labelling. In 2008, these artificial colourings were taken off the UK market due to health concerns. The UK banned these food dyes following a 2007 double-blind study, which found that eating artificially coloured food appeared to increase children’s hyperactivity. While banned in the UK, the EU requires mandatory warning on foods that include these colourants.
Honor Eldridge, Policy Officer at the Soil Association, said: “British farming has a reputation for high food safety and high animal welfare. It is imperative that any future trade deal does not result in a dilution of these standards for consumers. Nor should any deal competitively disadvantage UK farmers.
“We welcome Michael Gove’s assertion that the UK should not race to the bottom in competing with cheap imports, as well as his commitment to supporting environmentally-friendly farming practice. If the UK Government is to achieve its goal of improving and strengthening our food standards, future trade agreements must reflect these commitments. To this end, any future trade negotiations must be conducted transparently and with input from public stakeholders.”
Quite how far that meshes with Liam Fox’s urge to deregulate and open up global markets for the UK by sacrificing public and industry protections remains to be seen.
2018 Rural Crime Survey opens
IT’S THREE years since the last National Rural Crime Survey revealed the huge cost of crime to rural communities – both financial, at £800 million per year, and psychologically with chronic under-reporting, anger and frustration at the police and government – says the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN)
NRCN produced a series of recommendations and, in many areas, the police took steps to improve matters. So, now, it wants to know what’s changed.
Do you think crime has gone up or down? Do you feel safer? What’s your view of the police in your community?
In short, they want to know the true picture of crime and anti-social behaviour in rural communities across England and Wales – and the impact it has where you live or work.
Questions cover a range of issues – from whether you report crimes that you or your business suffer, to the impact crime and anti-social behaviour has on you and your area, and whether you believe enough is done to catch those who carry out the offences.
According to NRCN, it’s all about making sure the voice of rural communities is heard by those who can make a difference to where we live and work – from the Police to Government.
The survey is now available online here and is open for submissions until June 10.
The survey last took place in 2015. Then, 13,000 responded to give their impressions of crime and anti-social behaviour and revealed the financial cost of rural crime was significant – around £800 million every year.
One of this year’s focuses as they rerun the research is whether rural crime continues to be underreported. Three years ago, one in four said they didn’t report the last crime they’d been a victim of because they didn’t see the point.
Tenant farming must not be ‘Cinderella Sector’
THE TENANT FARMERS ASSOCIATION (TFA) is seeking assurances from Government that the farmers represented by the TFA will not be left behind as the Government develops new farming and environmental policies for the post Brexit era.
TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn, said: “BREXIT has provided a long agenda of things to do. However there is a danger that we will see Government focus on a small number of priorities in order to manage its workload over the coming months. This could lead to many sensible ideas for the development of farm tenancies falling by the wayside.
“The Government has challenged the farming industry to achieve greater levels of productivity to ensure long-term resilience. It is widely recognised that, in comparison to their owner occupier counterparts, tenant farmers are routinely some of the most efficient farmers within the UK. However they are hampered by restrictive agreements and short lengths of term leading to under investment. Also, the combination of these factors leave many tenant farmers unable to participate in existing agri environment schemes. The TFA has been in the vanguard of encouraging Government to address these issues both by amending the legislative and taxation environments within which agricultural tenancies operate,” said Mr Dunn.
The TFA was pleased when, last year, DEFRA reconvened the Tenancy Reform Industry Group (TRIG) with a remit to advise on legislative and other changes that would be necessary to ensure the success of the tenanted sector of agriculture in meeting the Government’s productivity and resilience agendas.
“TRIG produced a comprehensive report for DEFRA’s consideration towards the end of last year. Whilst I am pleased that the Government’s ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation has identified the importance of the tenanted farm sector, it was disappointing that the opportunity was not taken to respond to the recommendations from TRIG and to identify which priorities the Government was minded to pursue. We are encouraging DEFRA not to sideline the valuable work that TRIG has already done in this space,” said Mr Dunn.
“Whilst it is important to address the future of the Basic Payment Scheme, trade, access to labour and look for new agri environment measures, these must not be prioritised at the expense of ensuring that tenant farmers have a flexible, long-term environment within which to develop their businesses and participate in future schemes to reward farmers for producing public goods.”
Italian students discover a true taste of Wales
FUTURE European gastronomy professionals recently undertook a study tour of Wales, experiencing the very best of Welsh food culture, including PGI Welsh Lamb.
The group of 14 students came from Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche (University of Gastronomic Sciences) in Pollenzo, Italy, a world-leading establishment specialising in food studies and gastronomy where many graduates go on to work in food policy and high profile food organisations.
The students, who are all studying undergraduate programmes at the university, were undertaking a week-long study tour of Wales discovering the likes of: the Cardiff restaurant scene, cider-making in Caerphilly, Pembrokeshire potatoes, sheep farming on Wales’ dramatic landscape and traditional Welsh cheese making before heading to Machynlleth to taste Wales’ renowned PGI Welsh Lamb.
Whilst in Machynlleth, the students enjoyed a visit to William Lloyd Williams & Sons butchers where they were given a butchery masterclass and shown the versatility of Welsh Lamb cuts available. They then enjoyed a special Welsh Lamb dish, sponsored by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) and cooked by Gareth Johns, owner and head chef at the Wynnnstay Hotel in Machynlleth.
Gareth created a ‘Oen Mêl’ dish comprising of Welsh Lamb shoulder, braised in cider and honey served with local root vegetable mash and shredded green cabbage.
The students received a presentation from Gareth, an Ambassador Chef for Wales who has previously cooked for the Queen, to explain why he favours the food produce here in Wales: ”I have worked in kitchens all over the globe but I firmly believe that Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef are the best in the world. The Welsh Beef and Welsh Lamb particularly found here in the Dyfi valley has incomparable sweetness and consistency.”
Gareth is the Welsh ambassador for Slow Food, which is a leading international association committed to bringing back the real value of food and respect for food producers who work in harmony with the environment and ecosystems. The Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche has strong links with the Slow Food association and this is the third time students have come to Wales and been welcomed by Gareth.
Course tutor Rowan Hallet commented: “We have all really enjoyed our trip to Wales and sampling traditional Welsh Lamb. We’ve really been able to embed ourselves into Wales’ food culture and have fostered a deep appreciation for the dedication and skill that farmers, producers, butchers and chefs have to allow people to understand and enjoy this high quality food. The evidence of all that hard work has been on our plates throughout our trip.”
Market Development Manager for HCC, Rhys Llywelyn, commented: “We were delighted to be able to meet the students and tell them the story of Welsh Lamb, whilst giving further details about how it is a fundamental part of Wales’ food history and culture.”
”The students were equally interested in eating the product as they were in asking questions about how it is produced and enjoyed here in Wales and we hope they will have left Wales with a greater understanding and appreciation for Welsh Lamb which they can take forward with them in their studies and future careers.”
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