We would 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 does your organisation think would be the greatest benefits for individuals/sectors that you represent, or the UK as a whole, were the UK to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and why?
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 United States, for example, 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, does your organisation have about the UK potentially joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and why?
Sustain notes that CPTPP shares many features with TTIP, the proposed EU-US trade deal that was defeated after public opposition on both sides of the Atlantic. As a general point, we would reject any attempt to remove or lower food, farming or environmental regulations or standards if we entered CPTPP. We note that the United States were original members of TPP until US President Trump withdrew from the near-finalised deal. It has very much been shaped with US business interests in mind, and with the US’s approach to standards and regulations, which the UK, as part of the EU, has had cause to reject, especially when it comes to food and farming.
The Precautionary Principle
While not perfect and always subject to evolving needs, the UK, via EU law, currently has relatively high standards for things like food and animal welfare. The UK also follows the precautionary principle, that prevents introduction of products and practices for which safety and protection of the environment and public health has not yet been proven. We have heard the UK government repeatedly insist that new free trade agreements will not involve a reduction in UK standards. However, as the TPP (which has evolved into CPTPP) was designed while the US was still at the table, it follows their model for standards, where the onus is on the consumer rather than the producer to prove that a product is unsafe. We believe this contradicts the precautionary approach that has been the basis of UK decision making and good governance for decades.
In response to criticism and pressure, the UK government has also argued that the ‘right to regulate’ will not be undermined by trade deals – but we believe that the inclusion of the Investor State Dispute Settlement would drive a coach and horses through that right.
Public sector food procurement
Sustain has long argued about the potential of national and local government procurement to transform our food system, empowering and bolstering local producers, invigorating supply chains and serving decently produced, high quality food to school children, hospital patients and older people, as well as our government workers and armed services.
It is our understanding that under CPTPP, our government would not be allowed to impose or enforce the use of ‘domestic content’ or ‘a domestic supplier’. In practice, this would mean that local, regional and national governments could not use their procurement policy to encourage the development of local food industries, local food jobs or to support the development of high quality, high welfare, environmentally-sound food chains meeting domestic standards. This is an area of contention, so it is difficult to make definitive statements about would or would not be allowed. Suffice it to say that progress over recent decades on public sector food standards could be challenged by US companies seeking to win UK contracts. This might affect the efficacy or requirement of public sector food standards – hard won over many decades and with substantial public investment. This has implications for Government Buying Standards (mandatory for central government, HMP Prisons and some parts of the armed forces), National School Food Standards (mandatory in state-maintained schools and recent academies), and NHS Standard Contract terms for food served to hospital patients, and to NHS staff and visitors (mandatory for NHS hospitals).
Environment and labour provisions
We understand the CPTPP chapters on labour rights and the environment are non-binding and measure impact on trade rather than on labour or environmental protections, which is simply not good enough.
The clause on forced and child labour commits governments only to ‘recognise the goal’ of eliminating forced and child labour. They are therefore much weaker than any of the other provisions in the deal.
Provisions on workers’ rights are included in CPTPP but these are largely aspirational with weak enforcement.
No current trade deal contains any binding commitments to ensure that international trade supports environmental protection and climate targets and CPTPP is no different.
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a wake-up call to humanity, warning that “Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Meat, dairy and other livestock-derived products are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. All policy – including trade policy – must now prioritise overall reduction of production and consumption of livestock products, and a focus on environmental regeneration and greenhouse gas management in any livestock systems that continue to be supported at lower output. Without attention to the important matter of livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions, it looks very unlikely that global warming can be kept within the 1.5 degrees limit. As the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has noted, livestock is one of the top sources of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change, due to the combination of enteric fermentation (digestive gases released by ruminant animals such as sheep and cows), manure management, feed production (deforestation, fertiliser use, soil loss and soil carbon release), and energy consumption.
We want to see key EU environmental law ‘principles’ reintroduced to the British statute after we leave the EU, including the ‘polluter pays’ principle and the principles of precaution, prevention, rectifying pollution at source and access to justice, as well as the primacy of non-regression in environmental standards. The UK Government has committed to leave the environment in a better state. Environmental principles were not reinstated into domestic law via the EU Withdrawal Act; they are promised in a future Environment Act, and may be enforced by a new environmental watchdog. This work must be supported and not undermined by the CPTPP trade deal and the UK’s involvement in it.
Farmers’ representatives and unions 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 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. 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.
We have found evidence of prospective trading partners such as Australia (who are members of CPTPP) using 20 times more antibiotics in farming than in the UK. We would expect the UK trade negotiators to inform themselves, and us, of how other CPTPP partners are using antibiotics in farming that are actually critical for use in human health.
The EU is set to vote (possibly as early as Thursday 25th October) on a proposed ban on using antibiotics for preventative group treatments in livestock 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 same all out ban on preventative group use. We need to see the UK implement the proposed ban in full and also continue to find further ways to reduce the overuse of antibiotics in farming. We need the UK decisively to rule out not encouragement of excessive antibiotic use via trade deals.
If the UK joins the CPTPP, 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.
As with antibiotics, we would expect our negotiators to seek out information on how GMOs are being regulated in partner countries.
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 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.
We note that CPTPP requires all the signatory countries to sign up to restrictive seed laws known as UPOV91, that would limit farmers’ ability to save, exchange and re-use seeds, even if they are small-scale farmers with no international trade involvement. Not only does this threaten biodiversity at home, but it would affect farmers in the developing nation partner countries. In its work to shape the future food system after Brexit, Sustain has been clear about the need for adopting and maintaining agro-ecological approaches. We oppose any deal that would lead to the reduction in seed variety and potentially put responsibility for our seeds into the hands of just a few corporations rather than diverse breeders, farmers and others. This is sensible neither economically nor biologically. Genetic diversity fosters resilience, an important principle – especially in a changing climate.
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.
We note that CPTPP members Canada, like America, uses hormones in its beef industry. A recent trade deal struck between Canada and the EU has seen the trading bloc accept more beef, but the EU insists on maintaining its hormone ban. The ban on hormone-treated beef must be maintained in the UK in future trade deals. We do not want to become a dumping ground for beef that we previously rejected as part of the EU, but would now have to accept as members of CPTPP.
As members of the EU, the UK has long rejected hormone-treated beef, arguing that at least one of the growth hormones used is carcinogenic. In a Which? survey conducted earlier in 2018, 80% said they were not at all or not very comfortable with growth hormones in beef production. We urge UK trade negotiators to reject any attempts to pressurise the UK to accept hormone-treated beef.
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 foodborne viruses. Trade deals must not undermine this progress.
In its first report on the global burden of foodborne illness, the World Health Organisation found that 600 million people, or 1 in 10 worldwide, fall ill from contaminated food each year, and 420,000 die. Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of WHO’s Department of Food Safety, told journalists that part of the problem comes from global trading in food. Dr Miyagishima said: “If there is one country where food safety is weak and this country exports food to other countries, it becomes the weakest link in the whole food production system.”
Given the loss to the UK economy from food poisoning (NHS treatment, sick leave and unnecessary suffering), we would expect our trade negotiators to ensure UK consumers are protected from any food imports that raise the risk of food poisoning and disease, and that effective measures are in place to mitigate such risks.
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 (CPTPP partners 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, methods of production and (a future possibility) environmental or climate change impact. 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.
Sustain is concerned that a no-deal Brexit, and subsequent CPTPP trade deal could undermine crucial efforts to tackle Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, and affect the information available to consumers on packaging.
We note, as an example, that in 2017 the EU threatened CPTPP member Vietnam with a ban on fish exports if it did not clean up its industry. The South Asian country was accused of tolerating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on a large scale and was given six months to make improvements.
The global shellfish industry is already under the spotlight for engaging in slavery and the UK must ensure that any CPTPP trade deal does not prop that up.
At present, the EU imposes a number of conditions on fish products entering the EU which we would need to see replicated:
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.
Protected Geographical Indicators
Receiving a PDO/PGI designation as part of our membership of the European Union protects our speciality foods such as Stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray pies, and the artisan producers who create them. These are part of our unique food heritage. PGI products can command a price of up to 2.5 times more, which helps protects food industries and jobs. Collectively the UK PGI protected products make up a quarter of the value of UK food and drink exports.
But because the development of TPP initially involved the United States and the US is opposed to PGIs, the CPTPP could potentially threaten our food industries with an influx of cheap copycat products using the same name as our own higher quality goods. TPP also sets out procedures for countries to directly challenge geographical indications in ISDS.
Is there anything else that you would want to say about the UK's future trade and investment relationship with the existing Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) member countries or about the UK potentially joining the CPTPP?
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, negotiating proposals and texts for each round published and requirement to update parliament on progress.
Whilst our alliance is not specialist on such matters, Sustain and its alliance members are very concerned about the potential for future trade deals to generate costly Investor-State Dispute Settlements. These allow corporations to sue governments over new regulations or court decisions that affect corporate profits. With an average price tag of $8m, these courts are costly for national governments. We would like to see ISDS 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.
We also join others in requesting that a review mechanism is put in place for the UK’s membership, with the option to withdraw at a later stage.
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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