Buying British produce could become more difficult if labelling changes are agreed as part of a US-UK trade deal, food and farming alliance Sustain has warned.
Vicki Hird, the group’s sustainable farming campaign co-ordinator, said it may not be easy for shoppers to avoid American food produced with banned pesticides or lower animal welfare standards if the US pushes for a change to country of origin labelling (COOL) in trade talks.
In the 2019 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, produced by the office of US Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, COOL schemes in eight EU countries which apply to ingredients and finished products were highlighted as a problem for US producers as they ‘impede market access for imported ingredients’.
The information on labels in these COOL schemes included the country of birth, fattening and slaughter of animals; country of milking, packaging or processing for dairy products and country of cultivation and processing for wheat.
Speaking during the latest episode of Farmers Guardian’s Ploughing Through Brexit podcast, Ms Hird said: “There are lots of things people are rightly worried about if we pivot towards the US in terms of standards.
“People really do not want to have their shelves flooded with US produce or our UK farmers having to compete on those standards.
“To just say we can choose British if we do not want to choose American products will not wash either, because I think it is clear the US will want labelling regulations in the negotiations.
“We might not be able to just choose British.”
Though the new Boris Johnson Government is keen to pursue a US-UK trade deal, with Trade Secretary Liz Truss describing it as her ‘number one priority’ recently, a failure to resolve the Irish border issue could hold up progress.
John Wilkes, international livestock industry consultant and FG’s US correspondent, who was also a guest on the podcast, said: “The Irish caucus is very powerful and watching the Brexit deal very closely.
“I have a sense that ultimately something will need to be done around the border, because if they do not, I think it is very unlikely that Congress will pass a UK-US trade deal.”