It has raised concerns that, as the UK prepares to leave the EU, there are signs some Government ministers would be willing to sacrifice food standards to win trade agreements with non-EU states such as the USA.
The new report, co-authored by professors Erik Millstone and Tim Lang, warned that legalising hormone-reared beef would introduce an unnecessary and unacceptable risk to public health.
The report called ‘Hormone-treated beef: Should Britain accept it after Brexit?’ showed that if the UK’s food standards were weakened in exchange for, for example, for lower tariffs on steel, one effect would be that beef from cattle given growth-boosting hormones could enter the UK food supply.
It said that if the standards were lowered, the meat would not be labelled to say how it had been produced. Meanwhile, hormone-produced beef would remain unlawful in the EU and such a move might even provoke a boycott of beef in and from the UK.
The authors have called on ministers to ensure that food safety standards in the UK will never be weakened, especially not as a bargaining chip in trade talks.
They also urged UK farmers, supermarkets and butchers to make explicit commitments to consumers never to produce or sell hormone-treated beef.
Hormone use is permitted in cattle-rearing by US, Canadian, Mexican and Australian authorities, but beef from hormone-treated cattle has been banned in the EU since the mid-1980s.
Millstone, professor of science policy at the University of Sussex, said: “The idea that, once the UK leaves the EU, it will become a rule-maker, not a rule-taker, is illusory. Exporting to other countries requires accepting their standards.
“Food standards in the EU are far higher than those in the USA, and US standards are far higher than WTO standards. The UK should at least stick to the EU [standards]; the only changes allowed should be to make food safer, never less safe.”
Lang, professor of food policy at City, University of London, said: “The UK Government should ensure either that food standards remain fully aligned with EU standards, or that we adopt higher standards. There is a triple risk here: to health, to British beef farmers’ livelihoods, and to the UK’s ability to determine its own food safety standards.”