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US-UK trade deal to leave NHS facing high food poisoning costs

A US-UK trade deal which increases imports of American food could see the NHS forced to spend more money dealing with food poisoning, according to farming alliance Sustain.


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US-UK trade deal to leave NHS facing high food poisoning costs

The group has examined the food safety records of the USA and found substantially higher rates of sickness and death from foodborne illnesses than those in the UK (see figures below).

 

Using Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimates of the current costs of campylobacter infections, Sustain estimated the UK economy would face a bill of at least £1 billion if US patterns of food poisoning occurred in the UK.

 

Costs to the NHS and lost earnings make up this figure, but the total could be several billion pounds more if other expenses such as additional hygiene inspections to check higher volumes of imported food were included.


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The estimate also excludes costs to industry from increased food poisoning, such as recalls, loss of reputation and compensation claims.

 

Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of Sustain, said: “Our analysis shows if we accept imported meat without robust standards, we may also import increased food poisoning and possibly even deaths.

 

“The US is demanding we drop our food standards for trade, but our research shows cheap US meat will come at a cost to our health and economy.

“New UK trade deals must support hygienic farming methods and good animal welfare. It is absolutely unacceptable that trade decisions will be made behind closed doors by Trade Secretary Liam Fox and trade negotiators, without consulting the public, food safety scientists and parliament.

 

“We need to know for sure that Dr Fox’s team are not trading away our safety. There needs to be proper public and scientific scrutiny of all negotiations which affect what we eat.”

US-UK food poisoning figures

  • 14.7 per cent of the US population suffers from a foodborne illness every year, compared to 1.5 per cent in the UK. This is almost 10 times the percentage of the population.
  • 3,000 people a year die in America from foodborne illness, compared to just 500 in the UK. The US population is about five times the size of the UK.
  • About 380 of those annual deaths in America are attributed to salmonella poisoning, but in England and Wales, no deaths were recorded from salmonella between 2005 and 2015.
  • Campylobacter, a pathogen found mainly in chicken, has an infection rate of 6,289 per 100k of population in the US, with the frequency of outbreak on the rise. In England and Wales, the rate was just 96.22 per 100k population.
  • An average of 1,591 cases of listeriosis, usually caught from eating soft cheeses, unpasteurised milk and chilled ready-to-eat foods such as pate, are reported in the US every year. In England and Wales, the average is just 177.
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