US pig farm - ONE USE

There is more to fear from a trade deal with the US than just chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef, the Soil Association has warned, after it released a report outlining 10 “food safety risks”.

The report, published this week, highlights practices legal in the US, such as the use of chicken litter as cattle feed, as concerning and calls on stakeholders in UK food to be allowed input on any future trade negotiations with the US.

Chicken litter - a render of feathers, spilled feed, poultry excrement and sometimes even carcases - is marketed as a cheap feed product for cattle in the US.

While the EU allows its use as a fertiliser, it was banned as a feedstuff following the BSE outbreak in 2001. There have also been reports of carcases in litter being linked to outbreaks of botulism.

The Soil Association also cited the use of growth hormone ractopamine in pork, a drug banned in the EU that causes animals to process feed more efficiently, thereby gaining weight and resulting in more meat in a shorter timeframe.

Importing such meat would effectively undercut UK farmers, said National Pig Association CEO Zoe Davies.

“We would expect retailers to come down on our side and hold foreign producers to the same standards they hold us,” she said. “But in terms of negotiations, the government is yet to earn back our trust on equivalence of standards.”

The US FDA has acknowledged adverse effects in pigs that ingest the drug. Its guidelines state that bottles must carry the warning: ‘Ractopamine may increase the number of injured and/or fatigued pigs during marketing.’

It follows repeated assertions by environment secretary Michael Gove that UK food and welfare standards would not be compromised as a result of a trade deal.

The report also highlights heavy use of genetic engineering in the US, a topic often “tiptoed around” by the EU, the Soil Association claimed, which was hailed as the way forward by environment secretary Michael Gove.

The NGO also highlighted the use of atrazine as a herbicide in corn and sugarcane production as a concern. The chemical, which has been linked to cancer and fertility issues, is the second most commonly used herbicide in the US.

It is claimed to seep through soil to contaminate drinking water and was banned in the EU in 2004 following health fears when the drug was linked to cancer in rats. A 2014 study also linked the chemical to reduced sperm counts in men who were exposed during application to crops.

“While there is huge uncertainty around implementation and transition periods, and a Brexit deal, it is reasonable to expect significant alignment between UK regulation and EU regulation on pesticides for some time,” said NFU senior regulatory affairs adviser Chris Hartfield.

“The NFU wants the UK to adopt a more evidence-based approach. In the meantime, British farmers remain committed to continued high levels of consumer and environmental protection, which they achieve by having food production standards that are among the best in the world.”