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A new UK coalition formed to check the Government’s approach to food standards on imported goods has warned of the risk to public health and the environment if sub-standard products are allowed into the country.

The Future British Standards Coalition (FBSC), set up in September by parties with a vested interest in ensuring the UK maintains its food-safety record in any trade deals established when it leaves the European Union for good next month, has suggested the doors are already open to letting in foods that do not meet strict standards.

In its Safeguarding Standards report published today (27 November), the FBSC suggested “UK ministers have given themselves significant powers to change the rules on food imports without parliamentary votes or proper scrutiny”. 

The FBSC, which is chaired by Sustain CEO Kath Dalmeny, added that as a consequence of those ministerial powers, “rules governing the use of hormones and food additives are now easier to change, while standards on the use of antibiotics in farming have already been deleted”.

And it insists the Government is resisting public pressure to commit into law measures that would maintain current food standards, raising concerns about the potential impact on public health, animal welfare and the environment in trade deals currently being negotiated. 

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By GlobalData

It pointed to a 2018 outbreak of a “super-resistant” strain of salmonella in the US which it claims was linked to the use of the Azithromycin antibiotic in cattle, and Australia’s use of pesticides with “direct links to long-term health damage, including birth defects, cancer and hormonal disruption”.

FBSC was also critical of the Government’s Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) – a temporary body recently established to advise ministers on trade policy – because it does not have to report directly to parliament and its members do not represent across-the-board interests.

“At the start of November, the UK government sought to allay fears around food imports: it pledged to make its new advisory Trade and Agriculture Commission a statutory body for at least three years, and committed to issuing a report to parliament on each new trade deal it negotiates,” the FBSC noted.

“While the FBSC welcomes an extended commission, it does not believe the current membership of the TAC – focused on farming and business – matches the Government’s original pledge to ‘ensure the voices of the public … are heard.
“In the absence of commitments to high food import standards in primary legislation, the FBSC urges ministers to widen the TAC’s expertise and remit.”

Dalmeny at Sustain, the London-based environmental organisation promoting health and wellness and animal welfare, said: “UK consumers have consistently rejected the prospect of poorly produced food that hurts people, the planet and animals. The government needs to show the public it is listening and taking advice from a wide range of experts. 

“It should start by appointing a Trade and Agriculture Commission that reflects a proper range of expertise and ditching this behind closed doors approach to negotiating trade deals.”