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News & Editorial
Dr Fox and the chicken
26/07/17Text by Daniel Boffey in Brussels, published in the Guardian 25th July
Senior EU figures have hit back at UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox’s “ignorant and indigestible” claim that lowering UK food standards to allow the import of chlorinated chicken from the US is an insignificant detail. European officials warned that Dr Fox has failed to grasp the implications of continuing trade with the EU, should the UK lower its standards compared to the EU, where chlorine-washed chicken is banned. It highlights the complexity of the obstacles in post-Brexit trade negotiations. The UK cannot begin official trade talks with any country until it formally exits the EU in March 2019. On a visit to Washington, Fox suggested lowering UK food standards may be possible to allow imports of chlorinated chicken. Tweeting on Tuesday, the US president said that his administration was “working on a major trade deal” with the UK, adding: “Could be very big & exciting. Jobs!”
(Big! Jobs! Living a blustery five miles north of Trump's ghostly golf resort, I've heard this before. Ed.)
Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialist group in the European parliament, said: “I’m sure British citizens will not be enthusiastic to go from high standard control over food to chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. It is just a further indigestible gift from the Tories and their Brexit."
A EU senior official said Brussels had been surprised by the lack of knowledge shown by senior British politicians in their approach to negotiations. While the UK was likely to avoid tariffs on many goods under any free trade deal with the EU, the apparent openness of London to lower standards below those of the bloc would significantly hinder trade in the future.
“If we look at goods the most important thing about is not tariffs; it is all the rules around it,” the official said. “That is why we invented the single market which is about having one set of rules instead of 28 set of rules. Tariffs in a way are not that difficult. I think we will find a way of avoiding tariffs in the future. When the stated aim is to make your own laws, not have the same controls, then we need to have checks. Then any goods that travel from one market to another will have to undergo checks to see that they are legal to go on the market.”
The official echoed the comments of the British poultry industry, which is concerned about being undercut by cheep chicks which have been chlorine-washed prior to packing.
Inveterate tweeter Trump told US media he was in favour of Brexit before the UK voted to leave, and attacked the EU in a chirp, accusing it of a “protectionist” stance towards trade with the US. Trump has repeatedly promised that the UK and US would be able to thrash out a speedy trade deal, but agriculture is likely to be a sticking point. The US has long pushed a general dilution of health and environment regulation. Food industry lobbyists in the US have resisted products processed with chemicals from being clearly labelled.
Fox is in Washington launching a working group with Trump’s trade representative, Robert Lighthize, which is expected to lay the foundation for a future free trade deal. Fox has accused the media of being obsessed with concerns about chlorine-washed chicken being sold in Britain, adding that “Americans have been eating it perfectly safely for years”. The comments put Fox at odds with Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who was unequivocal that there should be no loosening of “any environmental standards whatsoever”. Instead Britain would compete on quality and not take part in a “race to the bottom” to win new trading relationships.
A Downing Street source gave their backing to Gove over the weekend, saying it was not in the UK’s interests to water down food safety regulation.<
'Chlorine-washed chicken is the least offensive of meat regulations a trade deal might force us to adopt. It has been pushed to the fore because it is less politically toxic than the issues hiding behind it. The European Union rules, which prevail in the UK, take a precautionary approach to food regulation, permitting only products and processes proved to be safe. In contrast the US government uses a providential approach, permitting anything not yet proved to be dangerous. By limiting the budgets and powers of its regulators, it ensures that proof of danger is difficult to establish.' George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian on 25th July.
'On a previous trip to the USA, Fox said he wants to "liberalise every sector" and start a new "financial services revolution", remarks which suggest he shares Trump's ambition to deregulate, in particular to destroy banking regulations established after the 2008 financial crisis. UK Prime Minister Theresa May has twice refused to omit the NHS from any US - UK trade deal. The UK government is pursuing a host of other trade deals, including with countries that regularly abuse human rights, and with some of the very poorest countries in the global South.' Edited from a War on Want press release.
Factcheck from Fullfact: Does the EU say it's safe to eat chicken rinsed in chlorine?
The European Food Safety Authority has said that there are “no safety concerns” with the chlorination of chicken. But it has also said this practice might not be sufficient for maintaining good hygiene standards throughout the slaughter process up to washing at the packing stage.
'Slapper Trump's offensive': an article about disturbing views from a July 23rd 2016 blog post.
November 2nd 2015 blog: 'TTIP - a toxic trade treaty, also published on the CommonSpace rolling news website, as was 'The Human Rights Act', link below.
'The Human Rights Act': August 8th, 2015.