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Dr Fox’s marvellous medicine

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 26.07.2017

According to Trade Minister Liam Fox, what the UK economy really needs is a good dose of chlorinated chicken, at least if that is what American farmers want to export to us. But asked a simple question on Radio 4 – “Yes to chlorinated chickens or No?” – Environment Minister Michael Gove replied “No”, adding ‘chicken preparation’ to the long list of things the cabinet can’t agree on.

While the thought of ingesting the equivalent of pool water may sound unappetising, the reaction to Fox’s enthusiasm is not driven purely debates about food safety. The European Commission has previously introduced plans to allow the import of chlorine-washed chicken after experts said it posed no safety concerns.

Instead, the fuss reflects a wider concern about the nature of any US trade deal. While Fox dismissed the issue as “a detail”, trade deals are made up of long lists of such minutiae. The detail is where all the devils lie.

Sticking purely to agriculture, there is for instance the issue of hormone use in cattle farming. The EU bans the use of growth hormones, with extra restrictions for those found to be carcinogenic. The US does not, and users of them will be keen to access the British market. Similarly, if the US continues to overuse antibiotics in livestock, we face the choice of following them – with all the attendant public health concerns – or losing out.

If the UK allows American farmers free access to the British market, UK farmers will be forced to lower standards to compete – bringing us to our second problem. If we harmonise rules with the Americans, our farmers will lose access to the EU market unless special — and costly — arrangements are made for the certification of particular farmers as EU-compliant, rather as organic food is today certified (voluntarily) by the Soil Association.

The third problem may be the largest of all. The government is evidently desperate for this deal to work, not to alleviate the damage of Brexit by replacing EU trade with US – that would not be feasible – but to have something to wave as a success. And possibly to justify Liam Fox’s continued employment.

Unfortunately, this means the Americans have us over a barrel and they know it. If you think chicken has been controversial, wait until we start discussing the NHS. Brexiters may quite rightly argue that any meaningful trade deal involves a loss of sovereignty, but when Vote Leave told us we’d “take back control” there is no record of them having added “and give it to Washington”.

Brexit apparently means moving from EU rules that we design and vote on to accepting US standards as the price of a quick deal. Feel the sovereignty.

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Edited by Bill Emmott

3 Responses to “Dr Fox’s marvellous medicine”

  • We should be very careful about a trade deal with the US where it concerns food safety. It is fair to say that EU standards are alot more rigorous than in the US. This includes what they are allowed to pump into their livestock, but also what they can spray their crops with. This is not just a matter of freedom of choice, the Government has a duty to protect public health. Also, if we relax our food safety standards to accommodate US food products, our producers will be forced down the same route, which will hit our sales to Europe. Unfortunately though, the Government will be so desparate to conclude a trade deal with the US after Brexit, it will be a case of, any deal will do.

  • The USA is not anybody’s friend when it comes to commerce, or much of anything else for that matter. America first (read power behind the throne) does not limit itself to heavy handed dealing with other countries as various regions and ethnic groups are routinely exploited within the US borders. The US is run by the Koch brothers and their ilk and they have little interest beyond the bottom line. This interest, of course, includes a society shaped to compliment their goal.

    Fox should be arrested and put in prison for his efforts to subjugate the UK to American interests.