/ Food & Drink

Food standards: our letter to the Secretaries of State

We’ve written to the government to ask it to clarify its commitment to protecting UK food standards in light of future trade deals. Here’s our letter in full.

Dear Secretaries of State,

We are writing to ask the government to clarify its commitment to protecting UK food standards in light of future trade deals.

The UK has a world leading food standards system and these standards are of great importance to the British public, who have been emphatically clear about their desire for the UK’s high food standards, including animal welfare and food safety to be protected in all trade negotiations.

Which? research shows nine in 10 (95%) believe it is important for the UK to maintain existing food standards.

The public has remained united in its opposition to the possibility of lower standard food such as chlorine-washed chicken or hormone injected beef entering the UK.

Around three-quarters (74%) told Which? they objected to importing food produced using lower standards.

Those in lower socioeconomic households were less likely than those in higher socioeconomic households to think lower standard food should be available in the UK, for both groups support for such a change was low – 11% and 16%.

Consumers should be confident in the safety and standard of the food they purchase, regardless of their budget.

Some argue that upholding standards limits consumer choice, however, the overwhelming majority want standards maintained.

Further to this, there would in many cases be no real choice given how much food is consumed out of home in hospitals, schools and restaurants where labelling would not be provided. Even in supermarkets making an informed choice would be difficult when food of a lower standard was used in processed products.

We recognise that the government has made commitments to honour its manifesto promise not to compromise on the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.

The government has said it has not included these commitments in the Trade or Agriculture Bills due to pre-existing legislation covering these issues. However, there remains public concern about how easily these laws could be changed using secondary legislation.

To provide reassurance and clarity on this issue we are calling on the government to confirm that it will uphold food standards by maintaining the bans on chicken treated with chlorine and beef injected with hormones, and that it will not, at any stage, ask this Parliament to remove these bans from the statute books.

We also ask for clarification regarding what is included in the scope of the government’s commitment to uphold food standards so people can have confidence that standards will not be undermined.

As Parliament resumes and trade negotiations enter their next stages, it is vital that the government reassures the public and sends a strong and positive message to trading partners that the UK is ready to strike ambitious trade deals on the basis of working together to improve food standards.

Yours sincerely,

Anabel Hoult, Chief Executive, Which?

john gater says:
16 September 2020

john . The food we eat impacts on the life of the planet as well as our own health. Any ideas on how we can become more knowledgeable about all the dangers when we make our choice at the supermarket.

3 September 2020

We have to make sure that there is full labelling on food. I have heard that the US may insist that we should should not label the source on food such as meat in our supermarkets.

C Downs says:
3 September 2020

I would say that the people you refer to as not too bright, are rather, not too well informed. We need to make sure that all packaging of food keeps us well informed, and easy and clear to read, not buried in the small print.

Ovidiu says:
3 September 2020

That’s only if they will still be allowed to mention the origin of the food on the packaging, which I’ve read the US is against to! Not much of a control there…

3 September 2020

It is also about animal welfare something any vegetarian might be concerned about

I recently bought some sweet potatoes from Tesco as part of my weekly online shop. The country of origin stated on the bag was USA. I am also vegetarian, and probably wouldn’t have bought these if I had been shopping in person as I have no idea how they are grown. I wouldn’t buy any food from the US if I could possibly help it.

3 September 2020

What an Arrogant and selfish approach.

john warner says:
3 September 2020

While I support all the issues in the Which letter I find your remarks patronising . I voted to stay in the EU , but recognise that all EU products were not the best. Likewise neither are all USA products. I for many years (while we were in the EU ) purchased as a wholesaler goods from China, Turkey, Spain, Holland and many others. Standards varied , Chinese confectionery met all EU standards but was generally of poor flavour whereas those from Turkey were better than Spanish . I respect your choice to be a vegetarian and also respected those who voted to leave the EU. Their reasons for doing so were many. I have two brothers and one sister .One who voted to stay and the other two to leave, One played golf for a living ,one was an area manager responsible for a multi million pound budget the other a NHS Senior Manager. You guess which one voted to stay . In my area the majority voted to leave mainly because since joining the EU our fishing fleet had been decimated. To sneer at people who vote differently to you shows that you are the one who is not too bright.

Colin Harding-Mutter says:
3 September 2020

You really did generalise didn’t you, as a retired lecture In Avionics ( a highly complex subject ) I hope my ex students follow the maintenance manuals of the aircraft they service with with a great deal more thought than you appear to have given this subject.

Geoff says:
3 September 2020

Well said !

Nigel says:
3 September 2020

This statement implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is not that bright. I am a vegetarian and voted to leave. Perhaps i am just not quite the ticket

TheresaS says:
3 September 2020

Then you voted against your own self-interest. Food standards will be out the window and UK will be doing trade with the cheapest and loathsome countries…that will have the lowest food standards like the US and China. As someone who is from the US and now lives in the UK, I can assure you that people here have no idea what they are in for…it will be abhorrent. This should have been a prime consideration before voting to leave…this will have such a far-reaching impact, that I don’t think you or many others have even remotely begun to comprehend.

3 September 2020

Well said Peter I too voted to leave the EU but still demand that our government protect our high food standards, labeling etc is also very important and we should always know where our food is coming from.

While your comments on the labeling of food packaging may be of interest, general statements that provoke particular groups of people aren’t constructive to this conversation, nor are they in the spirit of the Community Guidelines you agree to when posting.

Should you disagree with someone here, please make your comment about their argument, not a personal attack or generalised statement about the person making it.

Why has the comment been allowed to remain?

3 September 2020

No labelling of foods could be part of the negotiation in which case you would not know where your veggie food is from. GM and all kinds of pesticides are used in the US which are banned here.
Thinking about the greater good, low quality food is bound to end up in school and hospital meals due to squeezed budgets, also in many ready meals and take aways often used by people who are short of time and money.

T R. Hill says:
4 September 2020

Why is America so much against ensuring that they have greater food standards and maintain it to a very high standard ? What are they hiding?

I think the insulting comment has gone now leaving some stranded comments behind and the entire chronological sequence of this section of the Conversation had now gone haywire.

Sharon D says:
4 September 2020

I think the answer lies in the US private health insurance system. If you knew how much some people have to pay for their health treatments under their private health insurance it is mind boggling. You could view this as an incentive. A friend was charged well over 200,000 dollars for breast cancer treatment. Her insurance company covered the costs. Big money to be made.

Good Morning Mr Fudge – I am guessing that neither you nor any family member of yours has ever been ‘HIT’ (yes, I do mean ‘HIT’), with food poisoning – I have, it was very close to being fatal (my G.P. told my family), and extremely painful. I was in hospital for 5 days.
As you can guess, I believe you are the one who is being ARROGANT and SELFISH – we should all be considering the general population of the U.K. not just ourselves.

Mike Ashton says:
5 September 2020

Oh Dear. It is you, Sir, who are are ill informed, bad mannered and above all else, selfish.

Shirley Richards says:
4 September 2020

I could not agree with you more – I also will NEVER knowingly buy anything from the US, & I’ve noticed in recent months that some of the shops are selling bags of sweet potatoes that don’t show the country of origin. I have seen sweet potatoes which were grown in Syria, but I haven’t seen that for a while. Does anybody know where I can buy sweet potatoes that were NOT grown in the US please?

A Taylor says:
5 September 2020

You obviously were not around in the war when we were happy to get anything we could from the states who kept us going. The kind -ness of ordinary US people
who adopted us as pen friends with little gifts. I will never forget

Shaun Harper says:
10 September 2020

Have you ever visited the US Jim?

Saul Huck says:
5 September 2020

Not just vegetarians!

I bought sweet potatoes this week from Waitrose which were organic and grown in Egypt.

The real danger seems to be the impending loss in financial support of EU subsidy through the (CAP) Common Agricultural Policy, amounting to £3.5bn, Scotland receiving the most at £630m, after Brexit.

A DEFRA spokeswoman claims “Our Agricultural Bill is our greatest opportunity to reset the agricultural sector for a new generation of farmers and land managers, breaking away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. The Bill will be brought back to Parliament as soon as possible.”

This sounds rather promising, but farmers are complaining the NHS funding is receiving priority and my concerns are; if our farmers are forced out of business through cheaper imported US chickens, the repercussions could be somewhat daunting, inasmuch as this would increase our dependency on US meat suppliers, leaving us with little or no choice other than to accept hormone injected meat and chlorinated chickens, or whatever is sent our way.

Cross Party Action is urgently needed now to ensure our agricultural policies are secure and our traditional food standards are maintained.

I hope Which? will continue in its quest to safeguard UK autonomy over our food supplies generally before they are lost to yet another sub-standard multi national American Economy of Scale.

Julie Hudson says:
7 September 2020

We need to get ALL the supermarkets on board, as well as restaurants – chains and individual ones. If supermarkets refuse to stock food which has no verified source and restaurants refuse to serve/buy, they will have no market. With the threat of losing our NHS to a US-type insurance based health system also possible, any lowering of standards could have a disastrous effect on the health and even lives of many hundreds/thousands of citizens

Bas Hardy says:
9 September 2020

I rather suspect that a UK/US trade deal will be signed, so a paper trail procedure must be put in place to ensure that the primary source of every imported foodstuff will be on its UK label. And we must beware of subterfuge whereby cutting & other finishing processes such as chicken portioning, and fruit & veg packing, carried out after arrival in the UK, are not permitted to be labelled to imply that the foodstuff itself was sourced in the UK. Likewise the ingredients of canned and packed frozen foods & meals must source-labelled.

Alan Suter says:
10 September 2020

I imagine that any US desire for a “country of origin” labelling ban would also include “British”, “English”, “Welsh”, Scottish”, & “Irish (North)” on products from these islands. Is this the “Taking back control” that so many people voted for in 2016?

A guest on Newsnight [BBC2] the other night [I forget who], in a discussion about a UK/EU trade agreement and our government’s latest move to change the terms of the exit treaty, expressed the view that if an EU deal comes about the US government would not be interested in entering into a trans-Atlantic trade agreement with the UK, so, if that opinion is valid, making sure we don’t end up in a no-deal position with the EU could scupper a deal with the United States. The corollary is that if we don’t end up with a deal with Europe we probably shall need a deal with America but will be in a weak position to achieve an acceptable one.

Do we assume these individuals have the insight to make such assertions with authority?

So much of a trade agreement negotiation is politically driven, but much will also be driven by pragmatism. I suggest no country is going to disadvantage its trading position by taking a stance that is against its best interests; I believe its own powerful business lobby will see to that. Well, in my view anyway.

It is difficult to know who speaks with authority these days, Malcolm. A lot of the comments being made are no more than wishful thinking. The people round the negotiating tables are not going to say anything so pundits’ remarks are just speculation. But . . . it seemed plausible – if surprising – to me. I do feel that the UK is being kicked around a lot in the Brexit talks and that the USA is looking to exploit any disadvantage we might suffer.

Timothy Smith says:
10 September 2020

Yes, not so well informed, or maybe they just haven’t thought about it that much. I agree calling people stupid (not too bright) isn’t the way forward.

Brian Little says:
10 September 2020

Brian L says:

Been to the States many times. Before going the first time a colleague advised me that on the very first day there I would see MORE Obese people there than I had ever seen before! He was absolutely Correct!
In the UK, Why do the NHS Staff not Practice what they Preach? They must be the most Obese fraternity in the UK.

It’s not so much about what you Eat it’s the size of the Portions!

”“Our concerns about chlorine-washed chicken are less around the actual use of chlorine, but more that these washes are used to clean up poor welfare and hygiene practices throughout the system.”

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/09/chlorine-washed-chicken-vs-chlorine-washed-salad-leaves-whats-the-difference/ – Which?

So it is not about our health but simply about another country’s approach to animal welfare? That is a more honest approach than we have seen so far.

The argument against labelling, that would allow us to choose what we eat, is that it wouldn’t work in takeaways and restaurants. Well, as most chicken is bought from shops, labelling wêould allow the majority to exercise their choice. As for takeaways and restaurants, if public opinion were considered important to them they could make clear the origin of their chicken.

Does this all mean that we could import chicken from the USA, providing it wasn’t chlorine washed (apparently 90% is not) and ignore the lower welfare standards regulations they are said to enjoy?

Now we are likely to have a trade deal with Japan will we ban Wagyu beef, where animals spend all their cramped lives indoors with limited movement to give soft muscles? Not the standard of animal welfare we would like, is it?

I doubt it. I cannot envisage our current Tory masters wanting to ban the kind of expensive luxury foods that only they and their cronies can afford.

There are a lot of very wealthy Labourites who might enjoy Wagyu sandwiches with their champagne. 🙁

What is the evidence that Wagyu beef is still produced in this way in Japan? The UK moved away from the questionable practices used to produce white veal and current production of rose veal meets RSPCA standards.

It all gets a bit too personal for my liking when you get to know the animal’s name and address.

There are herds of Wagyu cattle in Scotland and North Yorkshire so we don’t need to import Wagyu beef from Japan.

Despite wanting to know where my food comes from and how it is produced, that would be taking things too far, John.

When I was in Japan about 20 years ago we were served some superb food that was beautifully presented and that might have included Wagyu beef, but at that time it was unheard of in the UK and the name would have meant nothing to me.

I see that Wagyu beef is produced in Scotland but I’m happy with traditional Aberdeen-Angus.

I agree. In my opinion Aberdeen Angus beef is as good as you can get anywhere.

There is a butcher near us who advertises Kobe beef [which is a regional variety of Wagyu beef] but I have no idea whether the market for it is very strong. I expect there is a bit of status symbolism and showing-off involved.

Many people we know have either gone entirely vegetarian or considerably reduced their consumption of meat. We often have two or three meat-free days a week depending on the contents of the fridge.

A local restaurant offers Wagyu steaks at silly prices. I am not tempted.

It was concern about food standards in the UK that put me off buying chicken, particularly learning that most of our chicken is processed by two companies that might not have an impeccable record. I have not bought chicken for at least five years and have not missed it. I eat meat about three times a week, but have fish, cheese and other dairy products more often.