With Brexit on the horizon, the UK is now looking for ways to open up trade with countries outside the EU. A trade deal with the US is one of the most significant options politicians are exploring and an agreement that would increase imports and exports of food and drink could be an important component of this. This has raised the possibility of the UK accepting US food standards, which, to put it mildly, are a lot lower than current British/EU standards.
Not only are US foodstuffs awash with toxic ingredients, animal welfare standards are appalling, which is a major issue to the British people who have a long history of campaigning for animal rights and utterly reject several forms of farming common in the US. Prime among these is the use of drugs such as steroids, bovine growth hormone and antibiotics in cattle farming, drugs that taint both the meat and dairy products. A few years ago the entire Mexican football team failed a FIFA drug test before a fixture, they hadn’t been taking steroids or growth hormone, they had been eating US produced beef.
Then there is the issue of the chemical cocktails allowed to be sprayed onto food crops in the US, things like the notorious Roundup from those lovely folks at Monsanto; it is impossible to prevent these chemicals entering the food chain and thanks to wholesale corruption and corporate criminal greed, no-one has actually done the studies to know just what effects these chemicals are having on the human population.
Here is a breakdown of just three of the toxic US food stuffs we want nothing to do with in Britain:
Chlorine Washed Chicken
The use of chlorine to wash chicken carcasses is currently banned in the EU and Britain
animal welfare is sidelined to keep costs down. In the EU, cost is also important, but the law means it can’t come at the expense of the birds’ basic welfare. There is a legal minimum amount of space, lighting and ventilation for EU poultry-rearing houses.
The more space the birds have to move around in, the fewer can be housed in a single area, which in turn has an effect on production costs. As there are no laws governing this in the US, the birds can be crammed in tightly so they have limited movement, with little light or ventilation. This reduces production costs but increases the risks of disease and contamination in a flock.
Washing the chickens in a strong chlorine solution (20-50 parts per million of chlorine) provides a brash, cost-effective method of killing any microorganisms on the surface of the bird, particularly bacteria such as species of Salmonella and Campylobacter. This helps prevent the meat being contaminated with microbes during slaughter and evisceration.
Why is the process banned in the EU?
US chicken has been banned in the EU since 1997 because of this chlorine-washing process. But this isn’t because the treatment itself has been deemed dangerous. A report by the EU Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures, for example, highlighted that the chemical cleaning treatment can be effective at removing food-borne pathogens depending on how it is used. The real fear is that heavily soiled birds may not be sufficiently disinfected, and that relying on chlorine washing could lead to poorer hygiene standards overall.
EU officials believe the food industry should be continually improving hygiene standards in all steps of processing – the “farm to fork” principle, and so have banned chickens washed in chlorine as a deterrent to poor practices. But in the US there are no poultry welfare standards so the process is common. There have also been reports, including undercover video evidence by the Humane Society of the United States, of both inhumane and unsanitary practices being carried out within poultry houses due to a lack of animal welfare regulation.
Although there are some benefits to this chlorine washing, there are concerns about it. Some US abattoirs and processing plants rely heavily on chlorination because their other hygiene standards are so poor that they would be illegal in Europe. The process is also very good at removing odours and surface slime, meaning the meat can be passed off as fresh for much longer than it should be.
Chlorine isn’t toxic at the levels used in the washing process and doesn’t itself cause cancer. But studies have shown that the treatment can cause carcinogens such as semicarbazide and trihalomethanes to form in the poultry meat if the concentration of chlorine is high enough.
Genetically Modified Corn
Pick up a box of cereal or other packaged food at any U.S. grocery store, and chances are you’re looking at a genetically modified product. The Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit organization that seeks sustainable alternatives to harmful methods of food production technologies, estimates that more than 70 percent of the processed foods in U.S. grocery stores contain some genetically modified ingredients — mostly corn or soy. But, in most cases, these modified foods have received only limited testing.
For example, take the three genetically modified corn varieties already being sold by Monsanto that are the subject of new analysis by French scientists. Two of the varieties have been genetically modified to contain unique proteins designed to kill insects that eat them, and the third variety was engineered to tolerate Roundup, Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide. Foods containing this “modified” corn are now being eaten by people all around the world, but the French researchers contend that Monsanto’s studies do not prove the corns are safe to consume.
Under current U.S. law, corporations are not required to make industry-conducted studies public. But, in this case, thanks to a lawsuit and the involvement of European governments and Greenpeace attorneys, these studies were released for independent analysis by scientists not being paid by Monsanto.
The researchers, affiliated with the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (an independent, nonprofit association dedicated to studying the impacts of genetically modified organisms), published their detailed critique of the Monsanto studies in the International Journal of Biological Sciences (2009; 5:706-726). They concluded that the data — which Monsanto claimed proved the corn varieties were safe to eat — actually suggest potential kidney and liver problems resulting from consumption of all three modified corn varieties, as well as negative effects in the heart, adrenal glands, and spleen. The findings confirm a 2007 report from the same researchers on a single variety of modified corn.
The new report also concludes that the Monsanto rat-feeding studies were so small and so brief that they clearly lack sufficient statistical power to prove the corn varieties are safe. So, why did governments grant permission to farmers to grow this genetically modified corn? Back in 1992, the industry persuaded the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to rule that their crops are “substantially equivalent” to traditionally bred crops. This assumption — that genetically modified foods pose no particular risk — has led to our current system of weak regulatory oversight.
According to the nonprofit Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a project designed to facilitate dialogue about the pros and cons of genetic modification, “No single statute and no single federal agency govern the regulation of agricultural biotechnology products.” And, compared with the battery of tests demanded of chemical pesticides (evaluation of chronic exposure, carcinogenicity, etc.), the testing requirements for genetically altered crops amount to little more than a polite suggestion.
Beef tainted with hormonal growth promoters
In some non-EU countries, hormonal growth promoters are used in beef production to increase cow size and reduce fat content. But in Europe, these promoters were banned in the 1980s over food safety concerns. This has raised questions over whether UK farmers are set at a disadvantage to overseas producers and whether non-EU meat poses a food safety risk.
The production of meat is controlled by hormones. Growth hormones control the extent of growth, muscle and fat production, feed consumption and milk production.
Treating animals with specific combinations and doses of hormones can make a carcass more valuable, as muscle growth can be increased and fat is reduced. Most importantly, hormone-treated animals are cheaper to rear as they need less feed to maintain muscle. Overall the increase in productivity from using hormones is 5-20%.
The most widely-used treatments are combinations of sex hormones (androgens and oestrogens) for use in beef cattle, growth hormones for milk production in cattle and growth in pigs and adrenal hormones (beta-agonists) which increase muscle in pigs and cattle. Sex hormones are released via a plastic pellet implanted behind the ear, while growth hormones are given by injection. Beta-agonists are included in animal feed and absorbed in the intestine.
A European Commission directive banning the use of hormones in meat production was introduced in the 1980s. Imported meat from animals with detectable levels of hormonal residues was also banned.
The ban was introduced as evidence suggested oestrogenic hormones were carcinogenic at high levels. While animals given correct dosages were unlikely to have high levels, they could occur if there was misuse, such as tissue from an implantation site being sent for consumption.
But the EU was not just concerned about health – the ban was also based on consumer perception that using hormones to manipulate growth is unnatural, unnecessary and a risk to animal welfare.
In the US, where hormones are used, officials maintain there is no good evidence of any health risk from using hormones. The country has long-debated the issue with the EU as it claims the ban is against the spirit of free trade between countries.
The EU’s position on hormonal growth promotes has strengthened since the 1980s, partly because of examples of illegal hormone use – particularly muscle-building beta-agonists – in some countries. Monitoring residues of growth promotors is now more stringent and coordinated by a single body in each member state. In the UK, residues are monitored by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, which also also monitors residues from meat imported from other EU countries. Exporting countries also have their own surveillance programmes and infringements can lead in the cessation of exports to the EU.
Overseas producers supplying the EU usually designate special production units where no hormonal growth promoters are used. The loss of extra productivity is balanced by the high prices received. However, it can still be argued that producers in these countries are at an advantage compared with EU producers because the bulk of their production benefits from greater overall efficiency and can ‘subsidise’ exports of meat from untreated animals.
The main argument against growth promoters is the food safety risk, but consumers in many non-EU countries are apparently unconcerned about their use in meat and milk production. Promoters are seen as a normal part of animal production and as a tool to make livestock farming more efficient.
While some claim they compromise animal welfare, most hormonal growth promoters have no measurable effects on welfare indicators, so the basis of a ban on welfare grounds is unclear.
With food security and climate change coming to the fore, some have argued the need to improve production efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions means EU producers could argue for the use of growth promoters. However public perception of the treatment of animals used for food production will always be a major consideration.