His lecture – delivered by Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association – set out to explore the possible consequences of a US trade deal after Brexit.
While welcoming the prospect of a boost to British food and drink exports to the US, Elliott asked: “What about the opportunities for the US to start to flood the UK market with goods that are currently banned in the UK due to safety issues?”
Topping the list of US food products that many UK consumers were likely to find unacceptable were: bleached chicken, hormone-treated beef, genetically modified (GM) fruit and vegetables and milk products derived from bovine somatotropin-treated (bST) cows.
Such products were all as safe as those produced and sold in Europe some commentators would argue, according to Elliott, who is professor of food safety and founder of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast. In fact, some claimed the present EU ban was much more about protectionism than safety, he added.
“However, what is very clear is that in the all the surveys undertaken over recent years, the public does not want any of them. We have an interesting time ahead, no doubt.”
Elliott highlighted the irony of last year’s Brexit vote leading to unwanted US food on British plates. “Our government, mandated by the democratic wishes of the public, are now seeking to sign a trade deal with the US which might mean the majority of the UK public get food they don’t want.”
Neither was improved food labelling likely to offer a remedy to the problem of unwanted US food products on sale in the UK, he reported.
Unwanted US food products
The City Food Lecture 2017 – titled: ‘Does it matter where our food comes from?’ – took place at London’s historic Guildhall last night (February 21). Bell delivered the lecture on behalf of Elliott, who was unable to attend due to a family bereavement.
Meanwhile, environment secretary Andrea Leadsom sought to reassure the National Farmers Union (NFU) annual conference yesterday that Brexit would not lead to a compromise in UK animal welfare standards.
“The Union flag represents all that’s great about our food and – we are in the top four in the world for animal welfare – and leaving the EU will not change that,” said Leadsom.
The environment secretary pledged to honour Conservative Party manifesto commitments that “high welfare standards will be incorporated into international trade agreements”.
Leadsom went on to urge the industry to cut “the unnecessary use of antibiotics in animals, without putting health and welfare at risk”.
Watch out for our report on Elliott’s view’s warning about “the political necessity of low food prices”.
US food imports that British consumers may find hard to stomach
- Bleached chicken
- Hormone-treated beef
- Genetically modified fruit and vegetables
- Milk products derived from bovine somatotropin-treated cows