Sustain / Brexit / Consultation responses
Trade with the United States, response to Department for International Trade, 2018
We firmly expect the UK Government to honour and respect the concerns of the British public in relation to food standards – safety, quality, workers’ pay and conditions, environmental protection, animal welfare and sustainable farm livelihoods, as well as fair dealing with food producers at home and abroad.
What would you want the UK government to achieve through a free trade agreement (or related trade talks) with the United States, and why? Please supply your answer and any supporting evidence below
Sustain is the UK alliance for better food and farming and a registered charity, number 1018643. We represent around 100 not-for-profit national organisations and work with hundreds more at local level – local authorities, public health groups and community organisations. The Sustain alliance advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture and promote equity. The alliance is independent from the agri-food industry, and does not take funding from for-profit food or farming companies. It is funded from grants (from charitable foundations and government, local authorities or related sources), membership subscriptions and sales of publications. Since the EU Referendum in June 2016, Sustain has been active in convening alliance members and others to discuss the implications of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and to work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the country’s food, farming and fishing, especially in relation to environmental and health concerns.
The Brexit debate has generated a lot of comment about how in the race to secure international trade deals, the UK may come under severe pressure to compromise our food, farming and fishing standards – a damaging race to the bottom. Sustain is not anti-trade and is interested in seeing the UK agree new trade deals that promote a beneficial race to the top. This is especially important given the necessity for food trade policies to support consistent and effective action on pressing global priorities such as climate change, biodiversity loss, the state of fish stocks and marine ecosystems, antimicrobial resistance, food poisoning, food fraud, obesity and diabetes, and measures to improve pay, fair trading and working conditions – especially in the food supply chain. We are confident that a high proportion of UK consumers and voters agree with us.
In April 2018 an IPPR poll found that, when asked whether the UK should lower food safety standards to secure a trade deal with the US or retain current standards, only 8% of the public thought the UK should lower food safety standards, with 82% preferring to keep standards as they are. This is backed up by research recently undertaken by the consumer organisation Which? looking at food safety and more broadly at quality standards and methods of production.
We would therefore firmly expect the UK Government to honour and respect the concerns of the British public in relation to food standards – safety, quality, workers’ pay and conditions, environmental protection, animal welfare and sustainable farm livelihoods, as well as fair dealing with food producers at home and abroad. We want to be sure that trade deals affecting food standards are agreed only if we can guarantee that people in the UK can enjoy a supply of food that is:
The British public expects their food to be safe. International trade deals must not undermine this. The UK has lots of national priorities on things like reducing antibiotic use in medicine and farming, reducing food poisoning, promoting healthier children’s food and baby food, and reducing diet-related conditions such as obesity and diabetes. We expect trade deals to help achieve these, not undermine them.
We want trade deals to enable the prioritisation of the production, availability, affordability and promotion of healthy food, and not to make sugary, calorie-laden food and soft drinks cheaper, more accessible or more heavily promoted.
Everyone needs to know what they are eating and where it comes from, so we would like any new trade deal to protect country of origin labelling. We also want to be free to support producers of higher quality, traditional goods, especially those with protected geographical status, such UK as Melton Mowbray pies or Cornish sardines.
We want the UK to remain free to promote and protect accreditation schemes and kitemarks and not allow fake or copy-cat goods with lower ethical values. As consumers are increasingly seeking out higher welfare and quality goods, these labels incentivise producers to take part in ethical and sustainability schemes, which is desirable.
Respectful of UK consumer and health priorities
We want trade deals that ensure our food is, for example:
- Produced from healthy animals naturally healthy and resistant to disease; not with the overuse of the antibiotics that we so badly need for human medicine. UK trade deals must therefore, without fail, help and not hinder the realisation of international commitments such as the United Nations WHO/FAO One Health AMR strategy, to which the UK is a signatory.
- Processed in ways that are safe and meet UK consumer expectations. This must not favour ‘end of pipe’ chemical treatments for pathogens, and must favour production methods that build inherent hygiene and animal welfare, and be inherently less prone to infection and contamination. Signatories to the trade deals must also be required to monitor and transparently report on food poisoning rates and sources of contamination, and be able to be held accountable for any incidents that may arise as a result of food trade.
- Produced in full consideration of the special needs of babies and children, not made with excessive salt and sugar, questionable additives or low-quality bulking ingredients, and with full respect for the UK’s current approach to limiting contamination.
- Promoted and advertised in a way that prioritises healthy diets, upholding the UK’s bans and controls of promotion of High Fat, Sugar and Salt (HFSS) foods, especially in advertising or marketing communications targeted at children under the age of 16; also respecting the UK’s robust scientific standards for health and medical claims associated with food.
- For environmental protection and wildlife, produced without chemicals and pesticides currently banned in the UK and across the EU. And for our health, made in a way that respects limits to the amount of permissible chemical and pesticide residues in food.
- Labelled in a consistent way that UK consumers can recognise and understand, with standard ingredient and nutrition information, details of where the food comes from, allergen declarations and front-of-pack traffic-light colour-coded nutrition information. The UK must not be constrained by the terms of a trade deal from introducing mandatory warning labels for certain types of food, should these be considered necessary in future.
- Overseen by a consumer protection system that can monitor progress, identify and address problems, and give consumers the rights of information, complaint, refund and redress.
Good for people (including farmers, farm workers and food producers)
International trade deals must ensure that our food comes from farmers and food workers who have been paid and treated fairly in line with International Labour Organisation conventions, and with opportunities for people to make progress and earn more over time, in an enforceable way.
International trade deals must not enable the food and farming industries to compete on a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of worker pay and conditions, must not put our domestic food producers’ livelihoods at risk, and must not put pressure on UK employers to reduce pay and undermine safe and decent working conditions.
Good for the planet
The UK Government must ensure, via its trade deals, that our food is produced in a way that is environmentally friendly and meets national priorities for conservation and enhancement of nature, as well as national and international targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It should not be produced using excessive chemicals and damaging techniques that harm pollinators such as bees, soil, air quality and clean water, as well as precious and irreplaceable wildlife and ecosystems at home and abroad.
Trade deals must help protect our seas, coasts and marine life. We must be able to prioritise a sustainable approach to fishing, fishery management, marine protection areas and marine ecosystem regeneration, as well as sustainable fish buying in the public and private sectors, in line with the UN’s official guidelines for responsible fishing.
Trade deals must not undermine the efforts of UK farmers and fishers and UK farming and fisheries policy to protect and enhance the natural environment and must not force our UK farmers and fishers to lower their standards in order to compete. Nor should trade deals undermine the UK’s ability to provide payments to farmers in return for environmental and social outcomes; and the UK’s ability to regulate the supply chain to achieve greater fairness and combat unfair trading practices; both as set out in Defra’s draft new UK Agriculture Bill.
Trade deals must not threaten our rules on buying sustainable fish for our schools, hospitals and armed forces – we want these enhanced and to see this encouraged and promoted more in the public and private sectors. The UK is still in the process of rolling out mandatory sustainability standards for the food served in Central Government, HMP prisons, the armed forces and NHS hospitals, as well as in many schools throughout the UK – trade deals must not undermine our ability and freedom to set and expect robust standards. This will include complete exclusion of some stocks and species, promotion of sustainably certified or scientifically assessed fish, and support for fisheries with questionable sustainability status to be put into fishery improvement programmes.
Good for animals
The UK Government must ensure that when it signs new trade deals, any meat, dairy or other livestock products we import comes from animals that have been treated well and transported and killed as humanely as possible, to at least UK animal welfare standards.
Public service procurement contracts
Trade deals must not in any way undermine the ability of our public institutions – such as schools, hospitals, prisons, central government and the armed forces – to buy well produced, healthy, fair and sustainable food. We must remain free to use our public sector food contracts to favour producers who abide by high standards that can demonstrably provide public benefits.
What concerns, if any, do you have about a free trade agreement (or related trade talks) with the United States, and why? Please supply your answer and any supporting evidence below
Sustain and our members are deeply concerned that in the race to secure international trade deals, the UK may come under severe pressure to compromise our food standards – and standards of production in farming and fishing – generating a regrettable and damaging race to the bottom.
Indeed, Senior American government representatives have already visited the UK to tell us that the UK needs to “shut up” (this is a direct quote) about our concerns about their produce and accept their lower and – we consider and believe the evidence suggests – highly questionable phytosanitary standards, if the UK wants a trade deal.
Farmers’ representatives and unions (and even a former UK ambassador to the US) have warned of the threat to domestic industry if British farmers are forced to compete against cheaper, low-quality food imports.
There is growing concern that in scenarios in which UK farming is expected to compete on price with countries like the United States that operate to different or lower standards, UK farming may become unprofitable – some of it already is. Post-Brexit scenario-modelling by the UK’s Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board suggests that in some possible scenarios, many UK farmers risk seeing their incomes halve after Brexit. Some commentators foresee the end of smaller and family farming, unless explicitly supported.
UK farm policy is in the process of transformation. The draft UK Agriculture Bill currently before parliament signals the intention of Government to prioritise environmental protection, encourage farming to play its role in mitigating and adapting to climate change, to direct public payments to achieve environmental outcomes, and to regulate the supply chain so that farmers are treated more fairly. Such welcome moves must be enhanced and not undermined by trade deals.
Trade deals must not inadvertently support the overuse of antibiotics in farming – either in the UK, through British farmers being forced to compete with food produced to lower standards; or overseas – antibiotic-resistant superbugs know no boundaries, hence the UK’s official support for the United Nations WHO/FAO One Health AMR strategy. A study by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics released earlier in 2018 found that the use of antibiotics per animal in US farming is over five times as high as in the UK and use per animal in US pigs is over two and a half times as high as in the UK.
Investigations have shown that antibiotics crucial to human medicine are still being used in “unacceptable” quantities on US livestock farms, despite rules brought in last year to curb their use and combat the spread of deadly superbugs, resistant to antibiotics. The systems of farming that use much higher levels of antibiotics are generally more intensive, cramming thousands of animals into small spaces, resulting in disease and faecal contamination that require higher levels of veterinary intervention, including antibiotics. UK trade deals must not support antibiotic-dependent intensive livestock systems, as these now pose unacceptable risks to human health and the global economy.
The EU is set to vote (possibly as early as Thursday 25th October 2018) on a proposed ban on using antibiotics for preventative group treatments in farming. However this will not come into force until the UK is likely to have exited the EU. The UK government recently confirmed they supported the European Commission’s aims in restricting the prophylactic use of antibiotics but fell short of saying they would implement the full ban on preventative group use. We need the UK government to implement the proposed ban in full. We need the UK decisively to rule out encouragement of excessive antibiotic use via trade deals.
We note that the United States complains that ‘delays in the EU’s approval process for genetically engineered (GE) crops have prevented GE crops from being placed on the EU market, even though the GE events have been approved (and grown) in the United
States’. It views the EU’s caution about importing genetically modified corn and rice as a ‘barrier to trade’.
If the UK signs a new trade deal with the US, the UK is likely to need a robust and transparent process for authorising the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs); effective measures to prevent GM contamination from any imported produce and an effective liability regime for those affected by GM contamination. We would also point out that genetic resources and genetic diversity are both key public goods, held in common not by private interests. Genetic resources should not be controlled through patenting – and this should be dealt with in trade discussions.
Currently the UK government recognises UK consumer objection to eating GMOs, and insists that foods containing them be clearly labelled. Whatever their view on the pros and cons, consumers from across the spectrum of attitudes to this technology insist that they want to know what they are eating. This right and preference should not be jeopardised by trade deals. Furthermore, currently most foods produced in the UK are likely to continue to adhere to stricter EU regulations to retain those markets, so relaxing our rules on authorisations and labelling could offer a competitive advantage to imports over many home-produced products, and also lead to additional burdens of proof on those who currently legitimately claim ‘GM free’.
Finally, the devolved nations’ divergent policy on GM in food and farming must be respected and legislation developed that will allow it to be fully implemented.
Under EU rules, UK consumers are currently protected from questionable food production methods like chlorine-dipped chicken, hormone-grown beef and routine or excessive use of food irradiation. We don’t want to be forced to accept these due to a trade deal, without healthy democratic debate and accountable decision-making, in relation to the implications of such treatments for food production methods, hygiene, disease control in humans, plants and animals, and animal welfare.
Poultry from the United States can be washed in up to four chemical disinfectants, and as such does not currently meet EU safety standards. British food policy academics have found evidence that animal carcasses in the United States are washed with disinfectants because when they arrive at abattoirs and meat cutting plants they are far more contaminated with infectious filth, including excrement, than is typical in the UK’s current food supply chain (whilst acknowledging that some of the UK’s meat industry does display problems and there is reduced regulatory capacity to go and check).
~Additionally that the US farming industry uses hormone growth promoters in cattle, a practice that has long been banned in the EU.
We contend that the use of growth promoters, excessive use of antibiotics and chlorine washes are all masking the effects of intensive livestock production in the US, associated with very high stocking densities, poor animal welfare and husbandry. This sort of damaging production should not be encouraged by means of a trade deal that advantages such production over higher standards of production.
The United States trade representatives have visited Britain and insisted that products made using these chemicals and treatments are safe to eat and that EU standards on such points are simply protectionist non tariff barriers to trade. However, a recent study from Southampton University has found that rather than decontaminating produce, these chlorine washes can “make foodborne pathogens undetectable”. Also, the question of excessive antibiotic use is not about food safety; it is about global stewardship of a critically important shared resource for treating human illness. It is currently being squandered, in part by profligate use in livestock production. This must stop.
Food standards in the UK – quality, integrity, safety and traceability – are already under severe pressure as a result of the paucity of resources for essential services such as testing, inspection and border checks. Changes to trade, movement of goods, potential border arrangements and our food standards being portrayed as ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’ are causing exceptional concerns and uncertainties for the food industry and standards bodies.
Trade deals must not expose us to increased risk of food poisoning – and even increased deaths – from things like Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria and E.coli 0157. The UK food and farming industries and government agencies have been working hard to tackle contamination from these and other dangerous bacteria and viruses. Trade deals must not undermine this progress. Analysis suggests that the percentage of people who fall ill with food poisoning annually may be up to ten times higher in the US than the UK. Sustain illustrates the risk as follows: if UK consumers adopted a similar pattern of eating to the US, treating increased food poisoning could increase deaths from food poisoning and cost the NHS and UK economy at least £1bn extra per year, as well as unnecessary suffering.
Junk food, sugary and processed foods
Processed foods and high fructose corn syrup (another form of sugar) are all high on the list of edible goods exported by the US and expected to feature in any future UK/US trade deal. These products along with sugary drinks contribute to the increased risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and diet-related cancers.
We have found figures that show obesity rates in the US of over 20% versus 12% in the UK. Self-reported rates of being overweight (including obesity) in US teenagers is more than double (31%) that of the UK (14%) and around 125,000 under-18s in the US are suffering from type 2 diabetes, versus approximately 2,000 in the UK. [NB – US population is only five times that of the UK]. We contend that unless UK trade deals are governed by sound principles of public health, investigated and governed by means of a full public health impact assessment, we could in future effectively see import to the UK of US rates of diet-related disease.
Our concerns have precedent. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health has found spikes in obesity in countries like India and China thanks to trade liberalisation. Other studies show obesity rates rose in both Mexico and Canada after the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993. American Samoa has an obesity rate of 75%, thanks in part to the adoption of a Western diet and developing a taste for turkey tails, a 40% fat cut of meat that US consumers reject, but that US industry has created a market for in the Pacific Islands. Samoa banned turkey tail imports in 2007, only to have the ban overturned by the WTO when they joined in 2013.
Sustain has also found evidence of US aggression in trade talks towards countries that try to set their own regulations to limit the marketing of formula baby milk, reduce sugar consumption, limit junk food advertising, impose sugary drinks levies or introduce additional food labelling measures. The threat of such restrictions to domestic policy priorities poses unacceptable risks to our children’s health and costs to our NHS, and would counteract public health measures that have been decades in the making.
The NHS spends at least £5.1 billion a year dealing with ill health caused by overweight and obesity in England alone. Researchers estimate the cost to UK society every year runs to the tens of billions, which includes the substantial costs of treating Type 2 diabetes. Cancer Research UK estimates that the predicted rise in obesity-related conditions could cost an additional £2.51bn in health and social care costs by 2035.
Treating diabetes in the UK costs the NHS around £13.7bn, with Type 2 costing £8.8bn a year. The US spends around $176bn treating diabetes. If the UK imported American levels of diabetes, resulting from increased availability and promotion of cheap unhealthy food and sugary drinks, we estimate that the cost of NHS treatment for Type 2 diabetes could soar by tens of billions of pounds. This is why impact assessments are needed. We cannot afford for unhealthy food trade deals to import very large additional costs to our NHS.
In the UK, tooth decay is the leading cause for hospitalisation among 5 to 9 year old children, with 26,000 children being hospitalised each year due to tooth decay. According to the Action on Sugar campaign, backed by doctors and dentists, there are seven cohort studies showing evidence of the relationship between dental decay in children and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. In 2016, Cancer Research UK issued a report showing that 11 to 18-year-olds eat and drink three times the recommended limit, with sugary drinks being their main source of added sugar.
The UK has started to turn the tide on excessive sugar consumption, for example by introducing a sugary drinks tax and championing colour-coded front-of-pack nutrition labelling. Anything that would undermine such measures and seek to increase the sale of sugary products would be a significant step backwards and could affect children’s health.
However, there is plenty of evidence of US aggression in trade negotiations towards countries that try and set their own rules or pricing strategies to reduce sugary drinks consumption. For example, in their National Trade Estimate Report the US government argues that a sugary drinks tax introduced by Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman, where diet-related illnesses are on the rise) disadvantages US products and was therefore a barrier to trade. The US also took a dim view of South African, Sri Lankan and Thai plans to restrict domestic consumption of sugary drinks.
In the second chapter of its Obesity Plan, published in June 2018 the Government pledged to consult on banning the sale of energy drinks to children. It stated that energy drinks had been linked to adverse health outcomes for children and that energy drinks are often high in sugar as well as caffeine, and are therefore a contributor to both obesity and dental problems in children, as well as problems for teachers dealing with children pumped up on excessive sugar and caffeine. The government pointed out that UK adolescents drink on average 50% more energy drinks than their EU peers.
Public health academics are similarly concerned about the high level of consumption of energy drinks in the United States and point out that the industry has grown dramatically. Market observers say the US energy drink market was valued at $7.6bn in 2017 and confidentally assert that will rise in the next five years. They also point out that “a major proportion of US households with children consumes more energy drinks as compared to those without children”.
Given the US hostility towards countries with sugar taxes, we can expect them to take a dim view of the UK’s attempt to ban sales of energy drinks to young people as this might reduce their market access. We would urge our trade negotiators to take careful note of the UK government’s proposed ban and ensure it is not undermined in trade talks with the US, for example by being subject to an Investor State Dispute Settlement.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Information from the United States Government shows that the US is exporting ever more ‘corn-based products’, including high fructose corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sugar made from corn starch that has been processed to convert some of its glucose into fructose. In the US, high-fructose corn syrup is increasingly replacing sugar (sucrose) in the food industry.
There is unresolved scientific debate over whether consuming large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup presents any greater health risk than consuming sugar or other sweeteners. Some reviewers have found that HFCS is “not meaningfully different” in composition to other sweeteners. In contrast, others have found that, “Diabetes prevalence was 20% higher in countries with higher availability of HFCS compared to countries with low availability.” Whatever the outcome of such research, the solid fact remains that high-fructose corn syrup is an added sugar, the overconsumption of which – as for other sugars – is a major health problem.
There has been some commentary that the increase in obesity recorded in Canada after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) trade deal was signed could be attributed at least in part to increased consumption of high fructose corn syrup. NAFTA eliminated all tariffs on high-fructose corn syrup imports from the United States and consumption went up. We would urge the UK government to consider the potential health impact and cost to the NHS of facilitating increased imports of high fructose corn syrup. It is deeply concerning that so far, the UK’s Department of Health appears to have been excluded from Government discussions about future trade deals. We believe this to be a major omission.
Sustain is concerned that a no-deal Brexit, and subsequent trade deal with countries including the US may undermine crucial efforts to tackle Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, and affect the information available to consumers on packaging. The vast majority of the world’s fish stocks are over-fished or fished at full capacity, so measures to promote sustainable production and consumption are vital.
At present, the EU imposes a number of conditions on fish products entering the EU which we would like to see replicated for any future US imports. We believe the US is likely to resist such moves, but they are vitally important to the survival of fish stocks, marine ecosystems and the fishing industry worldwide:
Traceability and labelling
All seafood products sold within the European Union must be labelled with the country or area from which the fish is caught, and the fishing gear used (or farming method, for aquaculture products) (Directive No 1379/2013). This information is vital for consumers to choose seafood that is from healthy stocks, because this information is required to check the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide. Without this information, it simply isn’t possible to be sure whether the fish we buy is sustainable. This could be very serious for some species. Wild-caught seabass, for example, is normally red-rated and considered ‘fish to avoid’, whereas most sources of farmed seabass are considered OK to eat.
Tackling illegal fishing
All wild-caught fish products imported into the EU must be caught by approved vessels and be accompanied by a valid catch certificate. Countries which fail to adhere to the EU’s guidelines to prevent and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing risks a temporary ban on being able to import into the European Union. (In the past this has happened to Belize, Cambodia, Guinea and Sri Lanka).
Aquaculture hygiene and chemical testing
Farmed fish products (in the UK this is normally salmon, king prawns, seabass, some bream, tilapia and pangasius) must undergo a ‘residue monitoring plan’ in which products are tested for contaminants including veterinary drugs (including antibiotics), pesticides and heavy metals. Results must be submitted to the European Commission annually for approval.
Sustain is particularly concerned that these conditions are at risk in a trade deal with the US, since a US trade document published earlier this year stated that “EU certification requirements are limiting U.S. agricultural exports such as fish…adding unnecessary costs to the movement of exports in Europe”.
In addition, mandatory requirements to buy sustainable fish for our public institutions could be challenged – at present, hospitals, prisons, government departments and defence catering must use only verifiably sustainable fish – helping to incentivise sustainable fishing. Schools are also encouraged to do so, and some local authorities, and thousands of primary schools, set sustainability standards for the fish they serve as part of the UK’s Food for Life Served Here programme.
Although the EU Withdrawal Bill (now Act) set out to transpose EU law into UK law, there are widespread concerns that the Act empowers ministers to change these ‘retained’ laws in future without normal parliamentary scrutiny (see analysis here for example), which could be a route for trade negotiators to ‘adapt’ UK law under pressure from new trading partners. There are other issues to be confirmed – for example, to whom will results of residue testing in aquaculture be sent for assessment? At present, plans for the post-Brexit regulatory infrastructure are not yet public.
Any trade deal must include a requirement that food of the same or higher standards than is currently the case can be imported, including robust sustainable fishing standards; otherwise we risk undermining action on tackling illegal fishing, reducing consumer information and choice, and undercutting the UK’s fishing industry and food served in our public institutions.
Artificial food colourings
In the US, it is permissible to use certain artificial colourings that have largely been phased out of foods available in the UK, due to scientific research showing their association with triggering hyperactive behaviour in toddlers. Voluntary action by UK supermarkets and manufacturers means their use is now quite rare, limited to certain categories of product, and the UK supported an EU requirement to put warning labels on products that contain them. If the UK agrees a trade deal with the US, such restrictions and labelling requirements could be subject to a legal challenge as a ‘non tariff barrier to trade’, or an undue cost and burden on US food exporters.
We are concerned that UK producers might be forced to lower their animal welfare standards in order to compete with livestock products produced to lower standards. Conversely, we are concerned on behalf of animals that the lowest standards in either country (US or UK) should not prevail and set the new low bar for trade and common practice. Principles of high animal welfare must be championed throughout. Information and labelling for livestock products must be reliable and transparent about 'use by' and slaughter dates, country of origin and methods of production. There should be no future constraint on the UK being able to set such requirements for domestic and imported produce, when sold in the UK.
The UK continues to permit export of live animals for slaughter and breeding, which many consider to raise concerning animal welfare issues. However, the public mood has turned against live export for slaughter over recent decades, the volume of live exports has declined to tens or hundreds of thousands of animals, depending on species, and the UK Government is consulting on the possibility of imposing an all-out ban on the export of live animals for slaughter. In the EU, there are measures in place to promote high standards of animal welfare when live exports occur. We note that the United States sees the EU requirements on export certification for live animal transport as a ‘barrier to trade’.
Sustain fears that a US trade deal could prevent the UK from requiring food labelling that presents nutrition information in a way that is helpful, colour-coded and easy to interpret.
The US government is quite clear on what it regards as ‘barriers to trade’ and in some cases have referred countries (e.g. Chile and Peru) who try to set their own rules on labelling to a World Trade Organisation court. We also know that they are opposed to mandatory traffic light labelling, which many organisations in the UK (including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Diabetes UK, the Local Government Association and the British Medical Association) are recommending as key in the fight against obesity.
However, if the UK Government wanted to make such food labelling mandatory in the future, they might be stopped from doing so by the terms of a US trade deal, or at least be delayed in lengthy and expensive legal battles.
Sustain is concerned that the US has tried to block attempts to promote breastfeeding at international health meetings and threatened sponsor countries with punishing trade terms and the withdrawal of military aid. They have also behaved aggressively in trade talks with countries that try to set their own laws limiting the unnecessary and inappropriate marketing of formula milk to new parents.
The United States has referred El Salvador to the World Trade Organisation because El Salvador wanted to restrict marketing and advertising, and to introduce labelling requirements for breast milk substitutes (formula milk). Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have also fallen foul of the US Government for trying to restrict the marketing of breastmilk substitutes.
We believe it is vitally important for infant and maternal health for the UK Government to maintain the EU directive standards on infant formula, follow-on formula and baby foods as a minimum to protect vulnerable children.
Is there anything else you would want to say about the UK’s future trading relationship with the United States? Please supply your answer and any supporting evidence below
Sustain’s focus and expertise is on food, farming and fishing. We have also been working with others to campaign for transparency in UK trade negotiations, in recognition that this general principle would be beneficial across a very wide range of social, environmental, food, fishing, farming, health and other concerns. We want the Government’s trade team to be required to:
- Undertake impact assessments (including on issues such as environment, labour, farm livelihoods and public health), that are comprehensive, researched independently and published in advance;
- Undertake proactive consultation with civil society, scientific specialists, parliamentarians and affected groups in order to set mandates for negotiators in advance;
- give parliamentarians sufficient time and powers to debate and vote on prospective trade deals.
Parliament should have a legal right to scrutinise and debate impact assessments before having a vote on a negotiating mandate. The assessments should also be revisited periodically to a) take account of the negotiated text b) assess whether projected gains and risks have materialised. Parliamentarians could also choose to insert a review clause into the deal related to the impact assessment in order to enable termination.
Negotiations should be fully transparent with the negotiating mandate published (as it is in the US), negotiating proposals and texts for each round published and requirement to update parliament on progress.
Final deals must be subject to parliamentary debate and affirmative vote before being ratified or implemented in any form.
Finally, Sustain and its alliance members are very concerned about the potential for future trade deals to generate costly Investor-State Dispute Settlements. We would like to see them excluded from any deal as they are the mechanism that could be used to undermine UK producers and to challenge environmental and food standards and protections.
Brexit: We stand at a cross-roads. When the UK leaves the European Union, will our leaders uphold good standards for our food, farming, fishing and trade deals? And will they agree a sensible deal with the EU? We need to make sure that they do!
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