Survey highlights serious consumer concerns over imported food standards

Around three-quarters of UK consumers are opposed to the UK allowing imports produced to standards banned in the UK under future trading arrangements, according to consumer champion Which?

The survey has of more than 2,000 people has also highlighted public that fears that these foods could be served in schools and hospitals.

The survey of more than 2,000 people showed 95% believe it is important for the UK to maintain existing food standards, including a ban on chlorine-washed chicken, meat from animals treated with growth hormones or antibiotics and many pesticides commonly used in US food production.

Around three-quarters said they were opposed to importing food produced using these methods – a response that was consistent across all socio-economic groups.

Meanwhile, 86% were concerned weakening UK food standards as part of a trade deal could lead to products that are currently banned being served in schools, hospitals and restaurants. In these settings, pupils, patients and customers may have little information or choice about the food they eat, Which? said.

Around 80% people said they would be uncomfortable eating beef produced using growth hormones or meat from healthy farm animals given antibiotics to boost their growth (77%), while 73% would be uncomfortable eating chlorine-washed chicken.

While some advocates of opening up UK markets to these products have said consumers should be free to choose or reject them as long as they are clearly labelled, a clear majority said food produced to US standards such as chlorinated chicken (63%) and hormone-treated beef (61%) should not be allowed in the UK even if labelled.

Which? is concerned, however, about a push from the US agriculture lobby to weaken UK labelling regulations as part of a deal, which it said could make it more difficult for consumers to make informed choices about the food they buy.

The consumer champion said the findings dispel the myth that there is an appetite in the UK for foods produced to lower standards than our own. Despite repeated assurances to protect food standards, it said it was concerned that the government is preparing to ‘trade away two decades of progress on food safety and standards to secure a trade deal with the US’.

With talks over a UK-US trade deal at a critical stage and negotiations with other countries picking up pace, its said the finding reinforces its calls for the government to heed consumers’ concerns about lowering standards and put into law its commitment to maintaining food standards.

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection and Food Policy at Which?, said: “People in Britain – whether rich or poor – are absolutely united in their opposition to lowering food standards and allowing imports of products like chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef into our supermarkets, schools and hospitals.

“Worryingly, the current status of food standards in UK law could easily be changed with limited Parliamentary scrutiny. It would be far too easy to permit imports of chlorinated chicken, hormone-treated beef or other lower standard products at any stage, which is why the weakening of government assurances on food standards in recent weeks has been so troubling.”

“Food standards in the UK must not be compromised by any trade deal that would betray decades of progress on food safety, quality and animal welfare.

“The government must legislate to protect food standards in the Trade Bill or Agriculture Bill to reassure consumers and send a positive message that Britain wants to strike ambitious trade deals that enhance food standards worldwide.”

A petition by Which? on the subject is nearing 200,000 signatures

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.