Helen Martin: Thanks but no Yanks to American imports

No thanks to chlorinated chicken
No thanks to chlorinated chicken
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WE had friends visiting from the US this month, and inevitably the topic of post Brexit trade deals cropped up. Actually, I couldn’t wait to quiz them about their opinions on American food standards.

They weren’t born in the USA – he was originally from Edinburgh and she was Canadian. They’d lived and worked everywhere from Tokyo to New York and retired to a southern state, so it was fair to assume they’d have a reasonably objective view of chlorinated chickens and everything else served up Stateside.

It wasn’t a long conversation. “We don’t touch that stuff. We go organic.”

“That stuff” is the mainstay of budget supermarkets and those struggling with tight budgets. And yes, it contravenes not just the food regulations in the UK, but the wishes of the average shopper.

Chlorine-washed chicken may well reduce the risk of salmonella, but it only kills bacteria on the surface of the bird. It also cleans up signs of poor animal welfare standards and other nasty practices. Hence it is cheap. Effectively, it’s the ‘poor man’s chicken’ - and the poor chicken’s fate.

Currently the world faces a huge risk from bacteria developing immunity to antibiotics, a problem blamed heavily on farm animals routinely being fed unnecessary medication. There are also concerns about human fertility being affected by hormones in the food chain, a practice that’s illegal in Europe yet still emerges from time to time.

Both are standard approved practices in the States, especially in beef cattle, as is the growth of genetically modified crops for the food industry.

The assumption that the only difference between the US and the UK is our accent is nonsense.

When it comes to food, we are poles apart (ironically, we probably have more in common with the Poles).

In Britain, we have an increasing desire to know the provenance of what we eat, including welfare standards and even which farm it comes from.

We avoid additives, seek the freshest food possible (despite the revelation that some fruits have been chilling in warehouses for years). We look down on processed food and recognise that some packaging – if not the food inside – contains hormones which affect human and even pets’ fertility.

Yet importing food products from the US is said to be a deal breaker for the future. The US government argues a refusal on our part would be all about protecting our farming industry.

Well, of course they think that – because their own low food standards are all about money, protecting THEIR food production and increasing profits, while our standards are based on human and animal welfare and protection, even if we still have some way to go.

We differ from the US in our attitudes to food as much as we differ on firearms, pollution, global warming or the need for a national health service.

Surely the Brexit vote was intended to swap the tight controls of Europe for freedom to trade elsewhere, not to switch control of the UK from Europe to the US.

Our visitors told us British beef is still regarded as potentially toxic in the US because of past BSE. As for haggis, that’s illegal.

Technology, fashion and movies can form global trade. But American food? No thanks.