British consumers have sent a clear message about upholding food standards to MPs ahead of a crunch vote that could ensure UK food standards are not compromised by imports.
On Monday 12th October, MPs can support an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would ensure future food imports comply with UK standards – guaranteeing banned products and processes like chlorine washes and hormone treatments remain off the menu as the government negotiates trade deals with the United States and other countries.
So far, the government has resisted calls for legislation to protect food standards, as it claims there is pre-existing law banning the import of food produced to a lower standard. However, it has yet to respond to Which?’s cross-party letter asking for assurance that this ban will not be removed from the statute books, prompting fears that current law is not strong enough and could be easily changed through secondary legislation.
Public support for maintaining food standards remains high, as trade talks with the US reach a crucial point. In the latest Which? survey, 94 per cent of UK consumers said it is important existing standards are maintained, while three-quarters (74%) said it was very important.
Around three quarters (77%) said they’d be uncomfortable eating chlorinated chicken, while eight in 10 (81%) said they’d be uncomfortable eating beef and consuming milk where cows had been given growth hormones used to increase production.
This opposition to food produced to lower standards is consistent across all socio-economic groups, regions and devolved nations in the UK and political affiliations.
The consumer champion also surveyed more than 6,000 members of the general public about their views on maintaining food standards and the government’s approach to the issue as it negotiates trade deals.
Across the whole of the UK, around seven in 10 (71%) survey respondents who said they voted for the Conservatives in the 2019 General Election said it was very important the government maintained food standards and 95 per cent said it was important.
Three-quarters said they were concerned that the UK has not ruled out lifting the bans on chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef (75%) and were worried these bans could be removed without proper scrutiny in Parliament (77%).
The vast majority (96%) of survey respondents who said they voted Labour in the last election also said it is vital food standards are maintained. More than eight in 10 said they were concerned the government has not ruled out lifting the bans on chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef (85%) and that such bans could be removed without a vote in Parliament (87%).
The findings are particularly pertinent for the government, which was elected on a manifesto pledge to ensure that in trade talks “the UK will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”. Unease regarding the government’s approach is also strong in former Red Wall areas that were won from Labour last year.
Which? found the majority (96%) of respondents living in the North East of England who said they voted Tory in the 2019 election said it was important food standards are protected. Two thirds said they were also concerned the UK government has not ruled out lifting the bans on chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef (68%) and that such bans could be removed without a vote in Parliament (67%).
More than nine in 10 (96%) respondents in the West Midlands who said they voted for the Conservatives in the 2019 election also said food standards should be maintained. Three-quarters also expressed concern about the government’s resistance to ruling out lifting the bans on chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef (74%) and the lack of scrutiny needed to remove such bans (78%) – half (50%) said they were very concerned.
In Scotland, another key battleground during the last election, food standards were also a uniting factor. 97 per cent of Scottish respondents who voted for the SNP told Which? it was important food standards are maintained. Around nine in 10 were concerned that the government has not ruled out lifting the bans on chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef (91%) and that such bans could be removed with minimal scrutiny (90%).
Meanwhile, 95 per cent of respondents living in Scotland who voted the Conservatives in the 2019 election echoed calls for food standards to be maintained.
Around three quarters also said they were uneasy that the government has not ruled out lifting the bans on chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef (74%) and that such bans could be removed without a parliamentary vote (77%).
The UK has some of the highest food and animal welfare standards in the world, and Which? research has shown British consumers would be uncomfortable consuming food produced to a lower standard such as chlorine-treated chicken and hormone-injected beef.
Over the next few months, trade talks are set to intensify as the government seeks to make progress on deals before the end of the UK’s transition period with the EU.
However, as the success of these deals will be determined by their impact on the lives and finances of millions of ordinary people, the issues that matter most to consumers – such as food standards – must be prioritised.
Which? is calling on the government to accept the amendments put forward by the House of Lords on the Agriculture Bill to finally put to rest speculation that food standards could be compromised in the race to secure post-Brexit trade deals.
Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection and Food Policy at Which?, said:
“Our research shows food standards are a dealbreaker for consumers in trade deals – and many people are concerned by the government’s failure to guarantee that the ban on products like chlorine-washed and hormone-treated beef will stay in place.
“Consumers have signalled that iron-clad legislation is needed to ensure two decades of progress on food standards is not sacrificed to secure a trade deal – and they now expect their MPs to make it happen.”
Notes to editor
Source for all UK consumer data: Populus, on behalf of Which, surveyed 2112 UK adults online between the 18th and 20th of September. Data were weighted to be representative of UK consumers by age, gender and region.
Source of regional / voter data: Populus, on behalf of Which, surveyed 6294 UK adults online between the 18th and the 24th of September.
More than 200,000 people have already joined Which?’s Save Our Food Standards campaign and signed our petition calling on the government to uphold these hard won protections as the UK negotiates new trade deals. Find out more here: https://campaigns.which.co.uk/save-food-standards/
Dozens of parliamentarians back Which?’s call for the government to urgently clarify commitments on food standards
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