’Growing Locally, Selling Globally’ was the premise at the recent USDA Outlook Forum in Washington DC, writes John Wilkes.
Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee sat on a panel to discuss ’ farm policy here and abroad’.
The US audience had a firsthand UK perspective on Brexit. He addressed key issues around a future trade agreement with the US.
Mr Parish said the UK and US have a strong trading relationship worth more than £182 billion per year.
He talked about chlorinated chicken. He said it was ’a red herring’ to say it is unsafe. Chlorine is ’not exactly fake news’ but ’news that has been slightly tampered with’.
He said: "In the UK chlorinated chicken has a symbiosis with lower standards fuelled by media coverage”.
He added only 20 per cent of US chicken is chlorine washed, ’whereas if you talk to the British public, I suspect they would think it was 100 per cent’.
Under Secretary Ted McKinney and the Food and Drug Administration met with Mr Parish later that day to further discuss the role of antimicrobials in US chicken processing.
Mr Parish cited the US evidence-based approach to agriculture as ’something the EU lacks, particularly in biotech’.
Post Brexit, the UK could take a more open approach to food production with real opportunities to pursue biotech.
He added: “Biotech offers real environmental benefits of reduced fertiliser, pesticide and herbicide-use associated with GM and gene editing”.
This would put the UK at odds with the European argument: “Is it safe and should we be eating it?”
The Tiverton and Honiton MP said Brexit was sold on the basis of lower food prices. There were those in UK who argued cheaper imports properly labeled should be allowed to give the British consumer more choice.
Lower UK produce prices to compete with cheaper imports could prove hard to deliver.
Mr Parish cited research indicating what would happen if prices for UK produced food increased 25 per cent. Results showed six in 10 consumers would stop purchasing.
He said: “No Government wants to see domestic prices rise too far. Hungry people do not elect governments.”
Mr Parish believes ultimately a trade deal can be struck with the US, but it needs careful negotiation to protect each party’s vested interest and values.
He said: “We are good at finding pragmatic solutions and share so much in our history and open market philosophy.”
He concluded with a note of caution; a UK/US agreement could face veto following parliamentary scrutiny. The British Government is under pressure to evaluate all future UK trade deals.