Liz Truss to press for lower food standards to get a US trade deal, warns document leak

PUBLISHED: 13:39 07 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:41 07 October 2019

Liz Truss sampling naan breads in Bedfordshire. Leaked documents suggest her department will pressure Defra to lower UK food standards to get a trade deal. Photograph: Liz Truss/Instagram.

Liz Truss sampling naan breads in Bedfordshire. Leaked documents suggest her department will pressure Defra to lower UK food standards to get a trade deal. Photograph: Liz Truss/Instagram.

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Defra will come under "significant pressure" to relax the UK's food, animal health and environmental standards in order to get a post-Brexit trade deal with the USA, leaked documents reveal.

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The lowering of standards could in turn limit the UK's ability to strike a deal with the EU - as well as causing "irreparable damage" to public health, said the documents.

Yet Liz Truss' Department for International Trade (DIT) will press ministers to lower the standards anyway in order to seal a US trade deal, said the document.

The document, which was prepared by civil servants at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for minister Theresa Villiers, suggested that there is pressure from Donald Trump's administration to relax standards.

Current UK regulations meet the EU's sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, which are in place to protect people and animals from disease, pests and contaminants - but US food processing of products like chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef fall far below SPS standards.

But the USA wants access to the UK markets for products like this.

The shadow Brexit secretary Barry Gardiner claimed that US standards outline acceptable levels of "maggots in orange juice, rat droppings in ginger and hormone levels in beef" - which he said should be "zero".

The document, which was obtained by Unearthed, the investigations unit at Greenpeace, said: "Agreeing to the US asks could severely limit our ability to negotiate an agreement with the EU.

"[...] EU concerns about the risk of non-compliant goods entering its territory would for instance be heightened if the UK acceded to US demands on chlorine-washed chicken."

The document adds: "Weakening our SPS regime to accommodate one trade partner could irreparably damage our ability to maintain UK animal, plant and public health, and reduce trust in our exports."

Nonetheless, the Defra document predicts that Liz Truss' trade department will lay on "significant" pressure.

"Defra will come under significant pressure from DIT to accommodate the US's asks," it says. "DIT are concerned about the ability for controversial SPS issues to hold up negotiations [with the USA]."

A Defra spokesperson told Unearthed that the department did not comment on leaked documents. "The UK is a world leader on animal welfare and environmental standards, and this will only continue to improve after we have left the EU," said the spokesperson. 
Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Barry Gardiner told Unearthed: "Trade agreements with the USA and Australia risk opening the floodgates to food imports to much lower standards.

"Their rules specify 'acceptable levels' of maggots in orange juice, rat droppings in ginger and hormone levels in beef. The right level should be zero. Undercutting our farmers and food manufacturers like this would drive many of our producers out of business and put jobs at risk."
Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign and Commonwealth affairs Chuka Umunna said the DIT was acting in "desperation".

"The promises made by Boris Johnson and the Conservative government that the UK would have a whole host of trade deals in place by Brexit day have now long been seen to be nonsense, however this desperation by Liz Truss represents a new low," he said.

"This leak shows how government ministers are willing to abandon safety standards on the food we feed our families in a hopeless attempt to try and replace the trade we will lose as members of the European Union.

"The Tories' vision of Global Britain is in tatters. Our position on the world stage is no longer being a leader in minimum standards to protect people's welfare, but instead we are witnessing our government try to roll these back or abandon them entirely.

"This grovelling to Donald Trump to get a trade deal must stop. The route out of this mess is to stop Brexit and the Liberal Democrats will continue to lead this fight."

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