Defra Secretary Michael Gove might be desperate to have people believe his Brexit will be ‘green’, but a US-UK trade deal would undermine all of our domestic production standards, says Green Party animal spokesman Keith Taylor.
Let’s be clear. Brexit isn’t going to be and was never intended to be ‘green’. Despite what Defra Secretary Michael Gove is desperate to have you believe.
The evidence is everywhere, from the UK government scrapping EU limits on overfishing to watering down energy efficiency targets post-Brexit.
But it is perhaps most striking in the agriculture sector.
Even Michael Gove, as compelling a performer as he is, can’t distract from the vultures circling around Britain’s post-Brexit farming industry.
In the last week alone, investigative journalists at Greenpeace have uncovered a treasure trove of documents revealing the demands American agriculture is making of the White House as a condition of any post-Brexit UK-US bilateral trade deal.
At the same time, we see former UK Ministers and leading Brexiteer MPs jetting off on all expenses paid trips to the US to meet Trump trade officials. With all the expenses, of course, being paid US agri-business interests.
So what do US corporations want? To put it simply: lower food and animal welfare standards.
Responses to a White House consultation on the possibility of a US-UK trade deal have been dominated by the powerful US food and agriculture lobby.
They, in short, urge US negotiators to press the UK into scrapping protections on pesticide use, genetically-modified crops, and the public health and welfare standards protecting both consumers and farmed animals.
Shockingly, the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, has already hinted the UK would put up very little resistance to the demands.
For decades, the food on our plates and the welfare of the animals from which it derives have been protected – albeit sometimes inadequately – by our membership of the EU.
The precautionary principle protects citizens from any process, procedure, or product that carries with it a plausible risk of harm.
Take, for example, pesticides; a US-UK trade deal on these terms opens the door to at least 82 pesticides currently permitted in the US but banned in the EU, on health and environmental grounds.
Among these are: permethrin, a likely carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor, and atrazine, a herbicide thought to affect the immune system which has been linked to birth defects.
In the US, it is also perfectly legal to ‘wash’ butchered chicken in strongly chlorinated water and to spray pig carcases with acid - which do not need to be labelled.
These practices are banned in the EU and are thought to increase microbial contamination, as dirty abattoirs with sloppy standards rely on the processes instead of ensuring their basic hygiene protocols are up to scratch.
This kind of deal would be a disaster for animal welfare. US livestock welfare standards are far lower than across the EU - where animals are legally recognised as ‘sentient beings’ and their welfare is regarded as such.
It would also be a bad deal for human health; persistent concerns about the potential health risks of US-style hormone-fed, intensively farmed cattle, such as increased cancer, and early puberty, ensure a general EU-wide ban remains in place - guided by precautionary principle.
One area where the UK Government’s intentions are already beginning to align with the demands of US agriculture is in over-medicated livestock. A practice which is both bad for animals and public health.
In the US, intensively reared beef cattle and dairy cows are regularly implanted with synthetic growth hormones, while pigs are often treated with ‘bodybuilding’ drugs.
At the same time, against the backdrop of a global crisis of antibiotic-resistance, 75 per cent of medically important antibiotics in the US are given to farm animals.
The UK government has already made it clear it plans not to apply EU measures to crackdown on overmedication post-Brexit.
Add to this the lack of US restrictions on the use of animal by-products for livestock feed, linked with outbreaks of swine fever, foot and mouth and mad cow disease in humans, and the widespread use of unlabelled genetically modified foods and additives, linked to asthma, kidney, nervous system and gastrointestinal disorders, and we have a snapshot of a deeply damaging trade deal.
Ultimately, Ministers and Brexiteers should be reminded that nobody voted for chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, nor was it slapped on the side of a big red bus during the campaign.
Greens will fight tooth and nail to protect farmers, animals and consumers against any moves to weaken our standards post-Brexit.
Keith can be found tweeting at @GreenKeithMEP