A “national food strategy” for the UK has called on the Government to maintain core standards and ensure Parliamentary oversight in relation to food imports resulting from future trade deals.

The UK’s one-year transition period marking the final departure from the EU ends on 31 December and the country is seeking trade deals elsewhere. This has led some in the food industry to fear it will allow in produce from the US such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef that would not currently be allowed in.

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Tackling that possibility, the report, issued today (29 July) said: “Verification programmes – along the lines of those currently operated by the US Department of Agriculture to enable American farmers to sell non-hormone-treated beef to the EU – should be established, so that producers wishing to sell into the UK market can, and must, prove they meet these minimum standards.”

But the report, commissioned by the Government and authored by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon food chain, did not dismiss the possibility of such imports.

“Negotiating trade deals is hard. Any blanket legislation requiring other countries to meet our own food guidelines would make it nigh-on impossible. We already import many food products from the EU that don’t meet UK standards. A blanket ban would make it impossible to continue trading even with this most closely aligned of partners,” according to the report.

It added: “There is a subtler mechanism we could use to put in place specific trading standards without requiring a universal ban. The Government should only agree to cut tariffs in new trade deals on products which meet our core standards.”

The report said the verification programme should, “at a minimum”, cover animal welfare concerns and environmental and climate concerns and core standards should be defined by the newly formed Trade and Agriculture Commission.

And it said the Government should adopt a statutory duty to give Parliament the time and opportunity to “properly scrutinise any new trade deal”.

Elsewhere, the report called for free school meals to be extended to another 1.5 million children in England.

It warned that the country’s eating habits are a “slow-motion disaster”.

It said: “One of the miserable legacies of Covid-19 is likely to be a dramatic increase in unemployment and poverty and therefore hunger.”

Chiming with the Government’s newly announced plan to tackle obesity, the report warned of “wilfully misleading” packaging of unhealthy products and the report challenged the “false virtue” of how the food industry presents itself.

The report suggests there is still a culture of “unhealthy multi-buy offers”, and Dimbleby spoke of some apparently healthy fruit snacks that are “clothed in a veneer of goodness and might not be better for you than a Mars bar”.

He gave Marks and Spencer’s Percy Pig sweets as an example, saying they are marketed on the packet as containing all natural fruit juice and placed “right by your kids’ little fingers”.

However, Dimbleby said the first four ingredients listed are forms of sugar such as fructose syrup and glucose-fructose syrup.

just-food has asked Marks and Spencer for a response to this criticism.

This is the first part of the review, with the second part next year expected to focus on environmental issues, such as climate change, pollution, sustainable farming and the spread of diseases.