Ulster Unionist Leader Robin Swann MLA has warned that the actions of the powerful food lobby in the United States reveal how exposed the UK agri-food industry could be in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Robin Swann said:
“Last year a major Parliamentary report highlighted that the dangers of a UK-US trade deal could be an ‘agriculture for services’ trade-off.
“Now it is no longer just a risk that American negotiators will insist that the US administration pushes the UK into weakening standards – it’s already happening.
“Recently it has been revealed that American agricultural interests had flooded the US government’s trade agency with demands trying to pressure the UK into cutting food standards in the event of us going to them seeking a trade deal.
“In the event of a crash Brexit the likelihood is that the UK Government will scramble to make trade deals and agreements with any major market that will engage. America would be the obvious choice, but in order to secure a deal the US has made it perfectly clear that it will not accept our existing non-tariff barriers – in other words they will not be prepared to match our existing food standards.
“If our existing standards – which are some of the highest on the globe – were to be weakened it would immediately mean the ban on the use of growth hormones in imported beef would likely disappear, genetically modified potatoes would be shipped across the Atlantic and the local market could be flooded with chlorinated chicken.
“I have said before that whilst our poultry farmers have become accomplished at eliminating bacteria from every stage in the chain, the Americans instead appear to tolerate potentially dirty meat until the end stage, where it then bleaches everything in a chlorine wash. It might cost a few pence more but I know which chicken I’d rather eat and I'd rather have my family eat. The danger of a race to the bottom in terms of prices however cannot be overlooked.
“I see the quality, traceability and overall standard of UK produce to be one of our greatest assets, so I hope the UK Government has the nerve to stand up to the US on this point.
"Unfortunately however, as the debacle around Brexit continues and we lurch every closer to the 29th March, I fear that farmers locally and their produce may be sacrificed in a rush to secure any sort of trade deal with the US.”