With fears that the government is prepared to abandon British food production methods in a future UK-US trade deal, we look at the importance of protecting British food standards

British farming has one of the highest standards of safety and welfare in the world, with the introduction of the Animals Act of 1911, tougher slaughterhouse regulations in 1933, and then a series of other improvements culminating in the 2006 Welfare Act. The industry has an ambition to reach net-zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

However, there are growing fears that the government is prepared to abandon British food production standards in order to secure a lucrative trade agreement with the US.

This would mean importing food that is produced in ways that would be illegal in the UK.

UK vs US farming

The use of antibiotics per animal in US farming is on average five times higher than in the UK. This is despite the fact that experts have warned as many as 10 million people could die annually from antimicrobial resistance by 2050.

The American poultry industry also has lower welfare standards than the UK. Subsequently, this means that the chicken produced has higher levels of bacteria and is often washed with chlorine or acid at the end of the meat production chain.

However, Ted McKinney, an undersecretary for trade at the US Department for Agriculture, has previously responded to these claims, saying that the US is “sick and tired of hearing about chlorinated chicken because it’s not true” and that the US hasn’t used chlorinated chicken “for a long time”.

Nevertheless, this remains a concern for many UK consumers.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows steroid hormone drugs for use in beef production, which has been banned in the EU since 1989. In 2003, an EU scientific review concluded that one of the commonly used hormones is carcinogenic.

Incidences of food poisoning in the US also effect 14 per cent of the population annually. This is 10 times greater than in the UK, where one per cent is affected.

What is the NFU's Food Standards Petition?

The National Farmers Union (NFU) launched a petition at the end of February, demanding that all food imports are produced to the same standards as the UK in the event of any post-Brexit trade deal.

Minette Batters, NFU president, said: “Our farm-to-fork approach delivers not only some of the most robust levels of food safety and traceability in the world, but also animal welfare and environmental standards that we believe should serve as a model for food production globally,

 “Allowing free access for cheaper US produce would completely take the legs out of our farming sector, and could jeopardise our entire domestic food production system.

“We are now at the eleventh hour. Winning this battle in the court of public opinion is where this now lies.”

The petition has gained the support of celebrities including chef Jamie Oliver and Countryfile presenter Tom Heap. It has almost reached one million signatures.

Click here to sign