No more rubber chicken
OUR Trade Secretary Liam Fox thinks there’s nothing wrong with a chlorinated chicken nor, we suppose, with filling it with antibiotics to get it to grow quickly and keeping it in an undersized cage for the whole of its miserable short life. This is the implication of seeking a free-trade pact with an American president who puts the USA first and sets his face against agricultural reform.
Not that it’s Donald Trump’s fault—all previous attempts at freeing trade between us and America have foundered because the USA refuses to accept that we should have the human-health rules and animal-welfare requirements that we see as fundamental. If the whole weight of the EU has failed to get acceptance of such simple necessities of international trade, Mr Fox has a fat lot of chance of delivering anything better, particularly with this President.
Chlorinated chicken is one of the least of our concerns. The use of antibiotics in meat production is so widespread in the USA that it’s become a major factor in the increasing ineffectiveness of what has been mankind’s first line of defence against disease. The discovery of penicillin and the development of its more advanced successors has been universally life-saving. Now, more and more people find that the medicine is ceasing to work because over-use has allowed the bugs to build resistance to them. European countries have much more stringent regulations about antibiotics, but even here, there are serious worries that we are not tough enough yet.
In all previous negotiations for freer trade, the USA has insisted that we drop our health standards to theirs and that American companies should be able to sue governments that insist on anything more. Those failed negotiations were with administrations much less stridently nationalistic. President Trump, of all people, is certainly not going to stand out against the hugely well-resourced lobbying of the food industry. Nor will he accept that the standards in slaughter houses in the USA are rarely up to a level acceptable in the UK. He will insist that the price of a free-trade agreement is agreeing to accept their low abattoir standards.
The objective realities are there for all to see: welfare standards for pigs, poultry and beef are significantly lower in the USA and public disquiet in the USA is growing. Many of their biggest food companies are beginning to recognise, at least privately, that they will need to change. That is partly driven by the EU example and for the UK to lower our health and welfare standards to accommodate the present American regime would be a major setback for the improvements that most Americans think are necessary.
In Britain, as in the rest of Europe, we have based our standards on the best available science, but we’ve also recognised that food and drink holds a special place in our society. It’s not just that they’re necessary to life, it’s that they are so intimately connected with health and well-being and they’re central to celebration, to families and to culture and religion.
We are increasingly rediscovering the many benefits of local food, craft beer and specialities that are home-grown and homemade. We’re in no mind to go backwards to tasteless bread, industrialised beer and rubber chicken. We don’t take kindly to monkeying about with our food and, however much ministers protest that chlorinated chicken is perfectly safe, we don’t need it, don’t like it and, what’s more, we won’t have it.
‘Welfare standards for pigs, poultry and beef are significantly lower in the USA