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.
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.
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.”