U.K. Urged to Act to Protect Food Standards in Trade Deals

The U.K. should adopt a farming certification system to safeguard high food standards as it negotiates future trade deals, according to recommendations from a government-commissioned review.

Ministers were urged to introduce a program to allow farmers from other countries to certify they meet British animal welfare and environmental standards. This would result in lower tariffs provided they meet the benchmark, according to the National Food Strategy published Wednesday.

“Standards are not the same thing as protectionism,” said Henry Dimbleby, the review’s lead author. “Using tailored certification systems would allow us to get these deals done without compromising on our core values.”

The U.K. is looking to make trade deals as it prepares to fully leave the European Union at the end of the year and agriculture has been a particular sticking point in talks with Washington. There has been a public backlash over fears that Britain will be flooded with U.S. food produced at lower standards -- most notably chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef.

The verification system would allow Britain to reach agreements without having to surrender its high standards in the face of political pressure, according to Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain. He was picked by the government to lead the study, which is billed as the first major review of British food in 75 years.

Such certification systems would not be required for trading with the EU, to which the U.K. is already closely aligned, or for deals with other countries that may carry over from the EU, he said. The government should aspire to a “gold standard level of scrutiny,” including giving Parliament the opportunity to properly examine any new trade deals.

“The issue of how to strike trade deals without lowering food standards needs to be addressed now, before it is too late,” Dimbleby said. “There is justifiable concern about opening up our markets to cheaper, low-standard imports which would undercut our own producers and make a nonsense of our progressive farming policies.”

The government plans to respond to the recommendations in the review within the next six months.

Other highlights from the report:
  • The report also recommended a package of measures designed to ensure children in poor households have access to a “nutritional safety net,” including an expansion of free school meals to an additional 1.5 million children and holiday activity programs.
  • While the review welcomes the government’s obesity strategy announced earlier this week, more needs to be done to ensure the most disadvantaged children can access healthy food. “The very foundation of equality of opportunity has to be a nutritious diet,” the report said.
  • The review describes the U.K.’s diet as a “slow-motion disaster” and “medical emergency” requiring immediate action.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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