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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Farmers fight back

The Guardian reports that Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers’ Union has hit back at suggestions the government will allow imports of chlorinated chicken and other low-standard farm produce in trade talks with the US.

She has called for rules on minimum standards for imports to be enshrined in law, and has insisted that other countries must trade with the UK “on our terms”, rather than seek to water down food rules.

Farmers quite rightly fear they will face a flood of cheap imports undercutting high-standard British produce, and the potential for the EU to ban UK-produced food if standards were relaxed.

They were told last month by Theresa Villiers, the former secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, that chlorinated chicken – which the US wants to be allowed to export to the UK, where it is currently banned on health grounds – would be excluded from any trade talks.

But the government refused to enshrine Villiers’ promises into the agricultural bill going through parliament, and she was sacked in the reshuffle. At the weekend, the new environment secretary, George Eustice, refused to repeat her assurances, reigniting the row and infuriating farmers.

Minette Batters said: “We must not tie the hands of British farmers to the highest rung of the standards ladder while waving through food imports which may not even reach the bottom rung,” Batters will tell the NFU’s annual conference on Tuesday.

“If the government is serious about animal welfare and environmental protection, and doing more than any previous government, it must put legislation in the agriculture bill.”

But as the Guardian points out, chlorinated chicken has grabbed the headlines but other practices pose a greater potential threat to human health. Within the EU, the use of antibiotics on farm animals falls under strict guidelines, which many other countries lack. Profligate use of antibiotics for meat production is linked to the evolution of superbugs, raising the spectre of a health “apocalypse” that could mean even routine operations become life-threatening.

The question of course is whether the government really wants to seize back control, or are we being softened up for a sell-out to US interests?
'On our terms'!? When the pressure is on the UK,a country desperate for trade deals after sailing away from a stable economic base are at a disadvantage with other countries that know our position. They have a big lever to negotiate with. Relaxed standards means only the strong large farms will survive (Tory owned or large companies) that can absorb the effects. Small farms go to the wall and will be bought up by the big boys.This,as usual, can mean the rich get richer.
Re health-- As you say allowing weaker standards not only leads to cheaper food but ,in the case of the US, lower health standards in the UK.This can put pressure on the NHS increasing its costs. It therefore causes more problems in the long run. Less resistance to infection.It will be just an addition to the stresses already in the country when ,I note, life expectancy amongst Women (who carry a lot of stress in modern England) has decreased.
It can push us to the US model of health where those with Insurance can get better service than those who use the NHS. It will be another slide down the economic,social scale to a 2 tier country.
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