Leaked document highlights risk to post-Brexit food standards
The UK’s Department for International Trade will back lower food standards in a bid to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, a leaked ministerial briefing has suggested.
The document urges environment secretary Theresa Villiers to “push back strongly” against "significant pressure" for controversial products like hormone-grown beef and chlorinated chicken to be sold in the UK.
It also warns that agreeing to US demands would severely limit Britain’s ability to negotiate a deal with the EU, and could see the bloc impose a hard border in Ireland to protect the single market.
Prepared by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the document states: “Weakening our sanitary and phytosanitary standards regime to accommodate one trade partner could irreparably damage our ability to maintain UK animal, plant and public health, and reduce trust in our exports.”
Boris Johnson and trade secretary Liz Truss have both talked up the benefits of a trade deal with the US, but the briefing points to tension between government officials on the issue.
The document, which was obtained by Unearthed, the investigative arm of Greenpeace, warns that pursuing trade deals with the US and EU at the same time would “create major issues with regards to traceability and enforcement”.
This approach could also put both deals at risk, with senior US political figures having said they will oppose any deal that jeopardises the Good Friday Agreement.
“Trade agreements with the US and Australia risk opening the floodgates to food imports produced to much lower standards,” the Labour Party’s shadow Brexit secretary, Barry Gardiner, told Unearthed.
“Their rules specify ‘acceptable levels’ of maggots in orange juice, rat droppings in ginger and hormone levels in beef – the right level should be zero.”
The leaked briefing also states that any trade deal could be complicated by the devolution of government powers, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all telling Defra that access to the EU market is of “high importance”.
“This top-level leak reveals an alarming rift within government over whether environmental standards should be maintained after Brexit," Greenpeace UK's head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said.
"We need a trade bill that brings transparency and democratic scrutiny to future trade negotiations, along with a legally enforceable guarantee in the Environment Bill that there will be no backsliding on existing commitments."
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Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM