Environmental risks to post-Brexit trade deals identified

The UK risks worsening environmental protections at home and abroad should it use future trade deals to drive down food prices after the country leaves the EU.

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That is according to a report from the Green Alliance, which highlights how trade policy could undermine sustainable farming practices and expose the food system to new risks.

One example of this includes importing beef from Brazil, which is half as expensive to produce, but nearly three times more damaging to the environment, mainly due to deforestation.

Another concerns the amount of pesticides in food imports, which are four times as likely to exceed legal limits outside the EU, and could be up to 100 times higher if arriving from the US.

There are also fears that lowering prices could force UK farmers to drop their standards to remain competitive, using more pesticides and fertilisers, ploughing up field margins, and increasing water pollution.

This comes after environment secretary Michael Gove insisted Britain would not dilute food regulations, such as importing US chlorinated chicken, in the pursuit of trade deals.

“But the cold, hard logic of trade negotiations will render these assurances worthless unless they commit to a trade policy that doesn’t threaten UK farming and the environment,” Green Alliance executive director, Shaun Spiers, said.

“The cheap food narrative of Liam Fox and others in government should worry anyone who cares for the British countryside and the quality of the food we eat.”

Approximately 70% of UK food imports come from the EU, however, the Green Alliance estimate that non-EU imports of chicken could expand by 17 times, butter by 26 times and cheese by five times, post-Brexit.

The think tank is now calling on the government to amend the Trade Bill to guarantee that the UK’s high regulatory standards will not be weakened in trade agreements.

It also recommends that information about food origins and production methods are improved so that businesses and consumers can judge the environmental sustainability of what they buy.

"A greener agriculture policy across all the UK is now within grasp after decades of unsustainable farming practices causing the depletion of valuable stocks of natural capital,” Scottish Wildlife Trust chief executive, Jonny Hughes, said.

“It would be tragically ironic if, in our pursuit of quick trade deals post-Brexit, the UK ended up driving soil, water and habitat degradation in other parts of the world while flooding our supermarket shelves with poor quality food products.” 

Image Credit: iStock

Author: 

Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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