The UK-US trade deal threatens Britain’s public health
British people who, four years ago, voted in favour of leaving the EU probably didn’t envision that Brexit would result in their supermarkets being filled with potentially carcinogenic food or in British farmers being put out of business. Yet, this is what is likely to happen if Britain’s agricultural trade deal with the US is allowed to go ahead.
From January 1 next year Britain will no longer have to adhere to EU laws and regulations. This includes regulations concerning food safety standards. And as this Boris Johnson government continues to be fairly obdurate in its prolonged (and increasingly acrimonious) ‘negotiations with the EU, they continue to insist that the EU is dispensable because they have a wonderful trade deal lined up with the USA. But food safety standards in the US are shockingly low and even though campaigners and researchers have highlighted how poor these standards are, the government recently rejected Upper House amendments to the US Trade Bill which would have given MPs a veto on food safety sections in trade deals which would be required to comply with “relevant domestic standards”.
This means that soon US-produced meat and poultry could be flooding into Britain despite the fact that studies have found very high levels of contamination in these products. According to the preliminary findings of a study by microbiologist Prof Lance Price at George Washington University, around 70 percent of the beef products they tested and 80 percent of the chicken products had E. coli on them while as much as 90 percent of the turkey tested had traces of this bacteria. E.coli can cause UTIs and diarrhoea among other things.
A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation aired last week interviewed Professor Price about these findings and what he had to say about the bacterial contamination was truly frightening. Apparently bacterial contamination in US animal products is common and the bacteria involved include not just E. coli but also salmonella and Campylobacter. The microbiologist told the programme that this can prove potentially fatal as “you get diarrhoea for a few days and you’ll get over it, but if you have any kind of compromised immune system, they [these bacteria] can cause serious invasive infections… They can get into your blood and kill you”,
The high level of bacteria in US livestock is the result of lax regulation which allows for crowded, factory-type methods of meat farming. Cattle are typically kept in confined spaces where they do not feed on grass but instead are given a high-protein corn feed. In small spaces a great deal of fecal contamination occurs mainly because of the fecal dust that is produced and this results in the contamination. The cattle are also fed many hormones — which were banned in Europe three decades ago — and although later the meat is washed down several times and bleached with chlorine (something not permitted in the UK or Europe), traces of contamination remain.
From January 1 next year Britain will no longer have to adhere to EU laws and regulations. This includes regulations concerning food safety standards.
Because the animals are routinely given high doses of antibiotics, the result is bacteria that are antibiotic resistant. Professor Price says this will result in cases where all sorts of different antibiotics will simply not work to combat an infection. According to him about 45 percent of the samples he has studied have shown themselves to be resistant to at least one antibiotic.
The Channel 4 investigation revealed that as a result of these low health regulatory standards, livestock producers are also contaminating the surrounding environment. One American campaigner explained that intensive farming units will often wash down facilities and spray the water into the field in the guise of ‘fertiliser.’ This ‘fecal spray’ will not just poison the plants but also the surrounding area. The stench is intense and the contamination can seep into both the air and the water causing all sorts of health problems.
But vegans in the UK have little reads on to gloat at this because if US fruit and vegetables are allowed into the UK the situation is just as alarming for them: in the programme we learn, for example, that it has been found that US apples contain 400 times more carcinogens than UK apples and US grapes 1,000 times more carcinogens than British ones. There are problems with dairy too as reportedly milk from the US could contain 50 percent more pus and will also contain potassium bromate — is banned in the UK.
An explanation of why this is allowed in the US is ‘Agropower’ as apparently the agricultural lobby is extremely influential in the Department of Agriculture. The Dispatches documentary points out that this lobby has spent more than $100 million on campaign donations this year alone.
Cheaper meat products from intensively farmed animals could also put traditional British farmers out of business, yet the Conservative government seems deaf to pleas to reconsider. The same day as the Channel 4 programme was broadcast, the ruling party struck down an Upper House amendment to the Agriculture Bill (to force trade deals to meet UK animal welfare and food safety rules). The amendment was defeated by 53 votes.
It seems that if the trade deal goes through then, no matter what the likes of the PM and his wealthy cronies dine on, the poorest people in Britain will be forced to, literally, eat shit.
And, so it goes on…