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under significantly different standards to our own: this includes the inclusion of food colourants that have been withdrawn from the UK, the use of the herbicide Atrazine that has previously been linked with human health risks, and the sale of chicken litter as animal feed which was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.
Economic value of red meat sector rises
HE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.
Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.
Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.
Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.
Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.
“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.
Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future
THE INCREASINGLY negative narrative around livestock farming and its portrayed impact on the environment and climate change has led to farmers in Wales standing up to tell their stories and highlight the positive impact livestock farming has.
Through the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ campaign ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’, farmers are addressing misleading claims by various groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and the environment. Launching the campaign, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past twenty years.
“We know that farming is already responsible for a critical carbon resource in soils, woodland and semi-natural habitats and I’m pleased to launch the FUW’s environment campaign – ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’ from my home farm here in Carmarthenshire today. As farmers are the most trusted link in the supply chain, they are best placed to communicate their stories, helping to address consumer concerns and influencing political agendas. Members can also look forward to a variety of webinars over the coming months, which will focus on the different challenges ahead for the industry and how to overcome them.
“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers. These attacks are corrosive and grossly misleading, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”
Mr Rickman added that 2021 is an important year for these types of conversations.
“Knocking on our door are the United Nations Food Systems Summit and COP26. The FUW has been engaging with these conversations at an international level and shares some concerns with other industries across the globe about the wider narrative and ambitions set out in inconspicuous looking documents. Plans, we and the general public don’t support. Telling the positive story of the guardians of our Welsh land is now more important than ever,” he said.
Starting in the first week of June, the campaign introduces four farmers all of whom tell the story of how they are addressing environmental and climate change needs in their unique ways: Carmarthenshire organic sheep farmer Phil Jones, the Roberts family from Meirionnydd, Ceredigion dairy farmers Lyn and Lowri Thomas and FUW President Glyn Roberts who farms with his daughter Beca at Dylasau Uchaf in Snowdonia.
“The campaign will further highlight that Welsh farmers are rising to the challenge of improving soil health and increasing organic matter in soils, improvements which represent further opportunities for sequestering more carbon. These improvements, the campaign will highlight, are achieved through specific livestock grazing patterns and rest periods. The campaign is also clear that the correct options, guidance and rewards are required to encourage more farmers to adopt such systems,” said Mr Rickman.
Soil, the campaign will stress, is a long term investment and at present, around 410 million tonnes of carbon is stored in Welsh soils and 75,700 hectares of Wales’ woodland (25%) is on farmland, representing an important and growing carbon sink.
“As acknowledged in Natural Resources Wales’ State of Natural Resources Report, using land for food production is an essential part of natural resource use and management. Whilst we acknowledge that agricultural intensification has undeniably had negative impacts on some species and ecosystems, there is overwhelming evidence that other factors, including reductions in agricultural activity and afforestation, have also had severe negative impacts,” he added.
Excellent Easter for lamb sales
Lamb proved a popular choice for consumers over Easter with retail sales soaring above the last two years. This demand has been reflected at livestock markets where farmgate prices are still standing strong.
At a time when lamb is always a firm favourite, this year people of all ages were both buying and spending more as a result of a renewed interest in sourcing quality, local produce and cooking at home.
In the 12 weeks to 18 April 2021, the total volume purchased was up 14.8% on the year, and 6.0% higher than in 2019. Consumer spend on lamb reached £190.0 million, which was 18.7% more than in 2020 and 14.6% higher than the same period in 2019.
Lamb leg roasting joints were the most sought-after cuts despite the fact that Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings remained, followed by chops and mince.
Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Data Analyst, Glesni Phillips said: “Lamb performed exceptionally well over the Easter period this year. It saw a 10.2% increase in the number of buyers engaging with the product and a rise of 3.3% in the frequency of which lamb was bought.
“The average price of lamb was also higher, but this obviously did not deter new buyers. The figures show that there are new buyers in all age categories, but this is especially true for shoppers aged under 45 years and those with children.
“The pandemic has led to more consumers cooking at home, giving many the opportunity to realise and enjoy the exceptional qualities and versatility of Welsh Lamb, and at the same time, support the local economy.”
Butchers also benefitted from the popularity of lamb in the run-up to Easter with total spend increasing by 16.1% on the year. The volume sold also increased, by 12.6%.
Glesni Phillips added: “As we approach the end of Spring, the consumer demand for lamb is continuing. This can be seen in the liveweight lamb prices which remain strong when compared to historical averages, with the average SQQ in Wales standing at 329.7p/kg in Wales for the week ending 15 May 2021.
“New season lambs are now entering the market – they accounted for over 70% of lambs at auction in Wales during the latest week – but the supply is still relatively tight. HCC is looking forward to working with retailers over the coming months on new activity, which will include in-store marketing, press and targeted digital communication to maintain this growth in sales. Butchers, who demonstrated their key role in the community during the pandemic, will also be offered training on a number of key skills to boost their sales even further.”
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