Mooovin' away from 'bargain-bin' UK: Raising livestock standards post-Brexit

©iStock/John Gomez

Campaign groups have hailed Brexit as a historic opportunity to reshape food and farming systems to raise food-farming standards and finally bury the tag of “bargain-bin Britain”.  

In a report produced by the Eating Better alliance, 10 key recommendations are set out on health, the environment, farm animal welfare and sustainable farming. Its authors advocate a “less and better” approach in which greater value is placed on the food produced.

Here meat and dairy quality are top of the agenda whilst a restrained approach to the quantity produced and consumed is encouraged.

Brexit provides the opportunity to create, and promote, a high-standard Britain, one synonymous with globally leading production standards for animal welfare and the environment,” said Clare Oxborrow, senior campaigner, Land Use, Food and Water Security Programme at Friends of the Earth (FoE) and chair of the Eating Better alliance.

“It is this which should underpin our meat and dairy particularly for our crucial export markets, not a ‘bargain-bin Britain'.”

Chlorinated chicken

Fears that Britain will have to compromise on food standards during Brexit negotiations were highlighted last week with controversy surrounding chlorinated chickens from the US being sold in Britain as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.

The practice of disinfecting chickens with the chemical is currently permitted in the US but banned in Europe.

Costings that claim treated American chicken is more than a fifth cheaper than British meat raise the prospect of British farmers diluting their welfare standards to compete with the cheaper meat.

“Trading relationships are particularly relevant for post-Brexit scenarios which focus heavily on export opportunities and favourable trade deals e.g. with the US,” the report commented.

“The outcome of future trade negotiations will determine the extent to which the UK’s markets in livestock products will be opened up to greater competition from abroad since currently EU trade agreements limit imports via tariffs.”

Chewing the cud

Along with FoE and the Eating Better alliance, contributions from WWF-UK, Compassion in World Farming, Sustain and the European Public Health Alliance detail aspects of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that they say are outdated and not fit for purpose.

Its failure to consider rural development in its aims, along with spiralling costs and its environmental and humanitarian impacts were laid bare in recent evidence submitted by the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change.

Here, scant attention paid to the welfare of livestock meant the UK is failing to meet its targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture.

“We need to step off the treadmill of industrially produced livestock that comes at such a cost to animal welfare, our health and the environment,” urged Sue Dibb, Eating Better’s executive director.  

“To do this we need a shift to healthier and sustainable eating patterns; with more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy products – particularly from intensive, industrial systems, and towards farming systems that produce ‘better ‘ meat and dairy to higher animal welfare and environmental standards. This need not cost consumers more.”

Better spending decisions

One of the ten recommendations calls for an integrated food and farming strategy that replaces CAP and better drives progress towards climate change goals and restore biodiversity.

In addition, the report wants to see a transition to healthy sustainable eating patterns with less and better meat and dairy with more plant-based eating.

High standards and enforcement for environmental protection, food safety, livestock antibiotic use and farm animal welfare are also a priority.

New UK agricultural policy and support mechanisms are also mentioned with import requirements meeting UK standards in these areas.

“The status quo is not an option,” stated the Eating Better alliance. “The €3.4bn (£3bn) of current UK farming subsidies need to be better spent on delivering public benefits.

“Calling for a new strategy with policies and mechanisms to support the essential transition towards a fairer, greener and healthier food system.”

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Comments (1)

TC - 07 Aug 2017 | 06:58

Brexit and food security

All very well, but as it stands the UK is only 18% self sufficient in fruit and vegetables, an amount set to fall as itinerant immigrant workers stay away in their droves. In addition there are very few subsidies for horticulture (fruit and vegetable farming), most go to meat and grain production. Unless the UK population amends its perception of agricultural work this country is set for starvation, regardless of policy documents - which last time I checked are not edible.

07-Aug-2017 at 18:58 GMT

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