Post-Brexit trade deals could lower pesticide standards, warn campaigners
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Standards curbing the use of pesticides in food production could be undermined by trade deals with countries such as the US, campaigners have warned.
A report by the Pesticide Action Network and food and farming campaign group Sustain says the UK – as a former member of the EU – has some of the most stringent pesticide regulations in the world, meaning many agricultural products from other countries which use chemicals more freely cannot be sold here.
But in the wake of Brexit, it claims trade deals with countries such as the US, Australia and India could drive down UK standards, exposing British consumers to imported food grown using chemicals which are banned here.
One example is neonicotinoids, which are banned in the UK as they have been linked with declines in bees, but are widely used in countries such as the US.
Ministers including South West Norfolk MP and international trade secretary Liz Truss have repeatedly pledged that the UK’s environmental and animal welfare standards will not be undermined during the pursuit of new trade deals.
But farming leaders in East Anglia have demanded these promises must be enshrined in law to ensure farmers are not forced to compete against food imports produced to standards which would be illegal here, such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef.
Josie Cohen, head of policy and campaigns at Pesticide Action Network, said: “Much attention has been paid to the dangers of ‘chlorinated chicken’, but the UK public is equally concerned about weakening pesticide protections.
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“We know that US negotiators have our pesticide standards firmly in their sights, and with the talks happening behind closed doors the public has no way of knowing if health and environmental protections are being traded away.”
READ MORE: MPs ‘missed opportunity’ to secure vital safeguards for food standards, say East Anglian farmersVicki Hird, farm campaign co-ordinator at Sustain, said: “In an already uncertain economic climate, the lowering of pesticide standards could be catastrophic for UK farming as well as the environment.
“If UK farmers are forced into using pesticides in order to compete with a flood of cheap food imports then their exports will no longer meet EU standards and they’ll lose one of their key markets.”
A wide coalition of organisations, from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) to conservation groups, has urged the government to deliver on its promises by legislating in the Agriculture or Trade Bill to protect food and environmental standards. And more than 800,000 people have signed an NFU petition urging the government not to undermine the high standards of British farmers by allowing cheap, low-quality foods to be imported under new trade deals.
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A government spokesman said: “We have been clear we will not compromise on our high food and environmental standards and we will only permit the and use of pesticides where robust scientific assessment shows they will not cause any harm to people or the environment.”