British farming’s future in a post-Brexit world was top of the agenda at the Sentry Farming Conference, Newmarket Racecourse.
Jonathan Wheeler reports...
FEARS that any post-Brexit trade agreement between the UK and the USA might be dependent on the UK allowing imports of hormone treated meat or chlorinated poultry were allayed by Roger Johnson, president of the American National Farmers Union.
The organisation represents some two million mainly family and smaller farmers, and has always believed in fair trade rather than free trade, he said in an interview.
In the past he said the USA had struck many trade agreements with lesser-developed countries, and had insisted any produce they exported to the USA met its domestic standards.
The UK would be in a different position after it left the EU and could set its own standards, potentially differentiating itself from the EU. His union believed in clear labelling.
“We have always argued that consumers have the absolute right to know what is in their food and that we should be entirely transparent and let the market sort it out,” said Mr Johnson.
During his speech at the conference he reminded the audience that the USA had won a case against the EU over its refusal to accept hormone treated beef, and that the EU pays an annual penalty to the USA as a result.
While Europe resisted GM technology, he said it had been well received in the USA.
He admitted a lot of mistakes were made when introducing the new technology, leading to descriptions such as ‘Frankenfoods’.
Despite recent high profile cases, the American public’s attitude to glyphosate was very similar. “I do not think the general public much cares,” he said.
“It is another herbicide. They trust the Environmental Protec-tion Agency to make the right decision on it.”
He acknowledged there was still time to ensure the products of gene editing did not suffer a similar fate and were better accepted by the market.
World trade and global politics
ROGER Johnson described both Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency as ’symptoms of a changed and unsettled world’.
While he supported taking action against China over its continual breaches of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, he disagreed with how Donald Trump had handled the issue, and lamented the damage done to the USA’s soya producers.
He said: “China is a ’serial offender’ in breaking WTO rules – with state control of major industries and forcing foreign countries to relinquish their intellectual property.
“I differ with the President on how to deal with the issue. He started by deeply offending them. I have never found it in my interest to slap somebody across the face before trying to make a deal with them.”
He had compounded that mistake by also offending many other major trading nations, and then expecting them to join with him in combating China’s activities.