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Why Which? is calling on the government to protect food standards

Hard-fought for standards must be protected ahead of new trade deals

Why Which? is calling on the government to protect food standards

Which? is calling on the Secretaries of State for International Trade and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to clarify the government’s position on protecting UK food standards in light of future trade deals.

Which? research shows 95% of people believe it’s important that the UK maintains existing food standards when negotiating trade deals.

Some 74% told us us they object to food produced with lower standards entering the UK.

This includes chicken treated with chlorine-washes and beef treated with hormones. We found that 83% of you were uncomfortable eating fruit and vegetables that contain higher pesticide levels than currently permitted under the EU.

While members of the government have committed to upholding standards, they have not included these commitments in new legislation, arguing that pre-existing legislation covers these issues. However, there remains public concern about how easily these laws could be changed using secondary legislation.

Here, Which? explains how food standards affect you and why they need to be protected proactively.

A long time in the making

The UK has some of the highest food standards in the world and these weren’t created overnight.

Restrictions on hormone use on livestock were introduced in the EU in 1981, and followed by a ban on meat imports from animals treated with hormones and growth promoters in 1989.

Chlorine washes were banned by the EU in 1997, while restrictions on pesticide use were introduced in 2005.

The UK has also led the way on reducing antibiotic use in livestock farming – globally, around 73% of all antibiotics are used in livestock whereas in the UK it’s around 30%.

We’re concerned that, without protection in law, these hard-fought gains could soon be compromised in order to sign trade deals with the US and other countries.

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Which? letter to government

The government has committed to not compromise on the UK’s high food, environmental protection and animal welfare standards.

But it has not included these commitments in the Agriculture of Trade Bills currently being debated by lawmakers.

The government says this is because pre-existing legislation protects standards, but Which? is concerned at how easily these laws could be changed using secondary legislation.

This is why we have joined with parliamentarians to write to Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade, and George Eustice, Secretary of State for Defra, asking them to provide reassurance and clarity on this issue.

We want:

  • Confirmation that the government will uphold food standards by maintaining the bans on chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef
  • Confirmation that the government will not, at any stage, ask this Parliament to remove these bans from the statute books
  • Greater clarity on what is included in the scope of government’s commitment to uphold food standards so consumers can have confidence they wont be undermined.

You can read the letter in full below.

Find out more: food and Brexit explained

Why are we talking about food standards now?

From 1 January 2021, the UK will have its own independent trade policy and sign trade deals as a sole country, not as part of the EU.

The UK is currently negotiating trade deals with countries including the EU, US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

However, there are concerns that as part of trade deals with non-EU countries, the UK will be forced to accept food produced to lower standards than is currently allowed.

This could mean less protection for consumers in terms of food safety, food quality and animal welfare.

While trade deals provide welcome opportunity for a wider choice of goods, including food at lower prices, this shouldn’t be at the cost of food standards and consumer confidence.

Read our letter to the government

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