How the government is sacrificing the nation’s health secretly to achieve an easier Brexit


Over the past month COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have soaked up media attention. Though fully deserving of this coverage, these two issues have allowed the UK government to hide a sinister decision from public scrutiny, that will impact all of our lives for many years to come.

On 13th May, the House of Commons voted on an amendment to the Agriculture Bill 2019-2021, the Bill which seeks to establish a new agricultural policy for the post-Brexit UK. The amendment in question was tabled by the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, and if included in the Bill, would require all international treaties relating to the import of agriculture and food produce to comply with the high UK standards we have maintained for many years.

However, the Commons voted down the Bill 328 to 277, with only 22 Conservative MPs voting in favour.

Startlingly, this contradicts the Leave campaign’s pledge to protect UK food standards in the event of Brexit. The rejection of the amendment allows countries, such as the USA, to flood the UK market with low-quality meat products like chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef, which are currently illegal.

The mask of ‘Project Fear’ has been removed to reveal Project Reality and one of the Brexiteers’ most comforting ‘red-lines’ has been egregiously crossed. Michael Gove even reiterated this commitment as late as 31st January this year, ‘Brexit Day’, in conversation with LBC, demonstrating how the campaign was built on deception.

If we strike trade deals with the USA on their terms, allowing their markets to grow, we are condoning the increase of animal cruelty, which undercuts our higher animal welfare standards.

Alongside what we may consider a sour sense of betrayal, the catastrophic consequences of this action are extensive.  

Firstly, farmers’ long-term efforts to maintain ‘world-leading standards’ will be undermined by cheap foreign produce, risking the crippling of one of our most beloved industries.

Furthermore, this reckless decision of the Commons risks the health of anyone who eats meat in the UK. According to the Independent, 48 million individuals fall ill from food-bourne diseases in the USA, 3,000 of whom go on to die. An outcome of a shoddy trade deal with the USA could result in similar figures being reported in the UK. In light of the current pandemic everyone should be alarmed by this, as it is widely believed that the strain of coronavirus spread because of low food standards in China.

On the back of this, a ‘two-tier’ food system may develop, when the price of British meat skyrockets. The wealthiest in society will afford high-quality British-bred meat, whereas the poorest will have to settle for poor-quality cheap imports. This will only serve to further widen the gap between Britain’s rich and poor. This quite clearly displays how inequality can be a product of a government’s own making.

Not only is there a human cost to this decision, but also an animal one. The USA has little to no regulation protecting animal welfare. Farmers are not bound by law to provide adequate space, light or ventilation for battery birds bred for the slaughterhouse. If we strike trade deals with the USA on their terms, allowing their markets to grow, we are condoning the increase of animal cruelty, which undercuts our higher animal welfare standards.

The government’s decision last month is the latest in the long line of broken promises they have made concerning Brexit, and one that of course continues the trend of consistently placing profit over people and serving only the interests of the elite.

The Bill going through the House of Lords; the second reading scheduled for 10th June, so there is still hope for change.

In a bid to protect UK standards, the National Farmers’ Union has set up an online petition encouraging the government to rethink their decision and ‘seize the opportunities of ‘Global Britain’ to promote sustainable models of production and consumption across the world’. Jamie Oliver has spearheaded the campaign, issuing a plea on social media hoping to raise awareness of the vote’s potential disastrous consequences and urging people to sign.

The government’s vote on 13th May is unethical and has been insufficiently scrutinised. A way to covertly ‘Get Brexit Done’ whilst the public has been distracted by bigger news, the rejection of this amendment once again showcases this government’s disregard for the people of Britain as they conveniently ignore all expert advice, if it means finding an easier route to the Brexit finish line.

Image: Piervincenzo via Unsplash.

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