The big question: Would a US-UK trade deal damage food and environmental standards in the UK?

27th March 2019

P27 big question

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Agriculture ,
  • Food and drink ,
  • Marine ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • EU


Peter Taylor

James Angel, Rob Percival and Victoria Hewson discuss how food and environmental standards in the UK would be affected by a US-UK trade deal

James Angel,

Policy and campaigns manager, Global Justice Now

“US agriculture has long been frustrated by EU food standards“

The politicians who will soon start negotiating a US-UK trade agreement primarily see food and environmental standards as a 'barrier' to free trade. The release of the US's objectives for the deal offers a glimpse of what this might mean.

US agricultural firms have long been frustrated by EU food standards, which restrict high-intensity, high-chemical and low animal welfare US exports. That's why US negotiators are setting out to 'eliminate practices that unfairly decrease US market access'. The US sees a post-Brexit trade deal as an opportunity for 'regulatory cooperation' – the relaxation of UK environmental and food regulations to match US standards. Public health and environment risks would be far-reaching, from the failure of chlorine washing to kill listeria and salmonella to the compounding of antibiotic resistance through their use on livestock.

What's more, a US-UK deal would likely include a secretive system of private arbitration known as 'investor state dispute settlement' (ISDS). This allows multinationals to sue governments in international tribunals to challenge measures that curb their profits. ISDS proceedings in previous trade deals have been used by firms to challenge policies designed to preserve food and environmental standards.

Rob Percival,

Head of policy (food and health), Soil Association

“US antibiotics use in livestock is five times higher than in the EU“

The UK government has made commitments to high environmental and animal welfare standards, but these may be undermined by a US trade deal, which could lead to a 'race to the bottom' if British farmers are forced to compete on price. Cheap food imports could undermine farmer profitability, leading to lower food quality, environmental protection and animal welfare standards.

Chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef in the US are emblematic of lower animal welfare and hygiene standards. The percentage of people who fall ill with food poisoning in the US is 10 times higher than it is in the UK. In the EU, genetically modified (GM) products are widely rejected, while pesticides are held to high environmental standards and antibiotic use in livestock is closely regulated. Meanwhile, 88% of US corn is GM, US lobbyists consistently push for lower environmental health standards, and antibiotics use is five times higher than in the EU. The US also considers nutrition labelling a barrier to trade.

British citizens don't want chlorine-washed chicken, ractopamine-fed pork or hormone-treated beef. The Soil Association is calling on the government to offer reassurance that our standards will be protected post-Brexit, and not undercut by a trade deal with the US.

Victoria Hewson,

Senior counsel, Institute of Economic Affairs

“There is a lot of misinformation about US food“

A UK-US trade deal could: establish strong environment obligations; establish rules to ensure the UK does not fail to enforce environmental laws; promote sustainable fisheries management and conservation of marine species; and protect and conserve flora, fauna and ecosystems. Each party can set for itself the protection it believes appropriate to protect food safety and plant and animal health.

These are some of US's objectives for its potential free trade agreement (FTA) with the UK. In fact, there is much more on the environment, labour rights, anti-corruption and protection of preference programmes for small businesses and women and minority-owned businesses, much of which will be more welcome to readers of TRANSFORM than it is to free trade supporters at the IEA.

There is a lot of misinformation about US food. Chlorine-washed chicken is safe, and US rates of salmonella and campylobacter are in line with European levels. Shielding agriculture from scientific advances that increase efficient land use is at odds with sustainability.

In an FTA, a country can maintain regulations to suit its policy priorities. Allowing our farmers to compete alongside their US counterparts would be good for them, good for the environment and good for consumers.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

UK off track for net zero by 2030, CCC warns

Only a third of the emission reductions required for the UK to achieve net zero by 2030 are covered by credible plans, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned today.

18th July 2024

Read more

Three in five British adults want more public involvement in the planning system, which could be at odds with Labour’s plans to boost economic growth, IEMA research has found.

3rd July 2024

Read more

Ahead of the UK general election next month, IEMA has analysed the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green Party manifestos in relation to the sustainability agenda.

19th June 2024

Read more

Disinformation about the impossibility of averting the climate crisis is part of an alarming turn in denialist tactics, writes David Burrows

6th June 2024

Read more

Rivers and waterways across England and Wales are increasingly polluted by sewage spills. What is causing the crisis and what is being done to tackle it? Huw Morris reports

31st May 2024

Read more

IEMA submits response to the Future Homes Standard consultation

31st May 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close