Keep Bri­tish food on the menu

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Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Bri­tain and the USA are not only ‘sep­a­rated by a com­mon lan­guage’, but the food go­ing into mouths on ei­ther side of the At­lantic is as dif­fer­ent as the words com­ing out of them. in Amer­ica, choco­late is sweeter, bis­cuits are ‘cookies’ and tend to frag­ment when dipped in hot drinks and jam is ‘jelly’. Heinz baked beans are en­tirely dif­fer­ent and you can for­get about ribena, sausage rolls, Gen­tle­man’s rel­ish and mar­malade. they make great wine, ad­mit­tedly, but where’s the cheese to go with it?

We are par­si­mo­nious with ice, apt to un­der­fill sand­wiches and be unimag­i­na­tive with sal­ads, vis­i­ble signs of dif­fer­ing food tra­di­tions that ex­tend from por­tion size to pro­duc­tion. How­ever, trade deals, of the kind we’ll have to agree post-brexit, and not just with the USA, re­quire com­mon stan­dards. Food is mov­ing rapidly up the po­lit­i­cal menu.

the EU Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy has al­ways been con­tentious here, first for its but­ter moun­tains and wine lakes, lat­terly for the fair­ness—or not—of the Sin­gle Farm Pay­ment. in ad­di­tion, our ef­fi­cient civil ser­vice prob­a­bly im­posed wel­fare reg­u­la­tions with greater zeal than other mem­ber states, mak­ing us less com­pet­i­tive. in the early days, this put some small pro­duc­ers out of busi­ness and it con­tin­ues to favour big agri-busi­ness over start-ups and niche pro­duc­ers, how­ever, con­sumers can be con­fi­dent about the qual­ity of Bri­tish food, which can be the best in the world.

We can’t be com­pla­cent, how­ever. it was not so long ago that grotesque prac­tices in the beef sec­tor gave rise to BSE, al­though, thank­fully, it wasn’t nearly as bad as pre­dicted. We have good su­per­mar­kets, but en­thu­si­asm for buy­ing lo­cal food isn’t shared widely: most peo­ple shop by price. Leav­ing the EU should drive prices down fur­ther, but De­fra Sec­re­tary Michael Gove must en­sure that im­ports can only be per­mit­ted when they meet Bri­tish stan­dards.

Should chicken be washed in chlo­rine, as in the USA? it ap­pears to be a fine point. not so the reg­u­lar feed­ing of an­tibi­otics to farm an­i­mals, which is more preva­lent there (Agromenes, page 31). De­fra’s over­worked staff will have to es­tab­lish a new reg­u­la­tory regime for ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied crops, the devel­op­ment of which has been slow and trun­cated in Europe com­pared to the rest of the world.

A more en­light­ened at­ti­tude to progress could be one of the great wins of Brexit, for sci­ence as well as for farm­ers, but say­ing that it won’t be easy to achieve is an un­der­state­ment. De­fra’s sud­den promi­nence on the po­lit­i­cal stage comes with un­for­tu­nate tim­ing, as it’s suf­fered bru­tal cuts. Mr Gove will need to wield all the clout he’s got.

‘Michael Gove must en­sure that im­ports can only be per­mit­ted when they meet Bri­tish stan­dards

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