Schoolchildren and hospital patients could be fed meat from hormone-fed cattle, chlorine-washed chicken and pigs kept in cruel stalls which are illegal in the UK under a trade deal with Australia , warn experts.
Farmers and environmentalists say allowing imports that create high greenhouse gas emissions and harm animal welfare would be hypocritical on the part of the government.
The UK and Australia have struck “the vast majority” of a post-Brexit free trade deal, aimed at reaching a deal by next month. Ministers hope a deal will help the economy move forward as it recovers from the pandemic.
But a clause in the government’s purchasing guidelines allows public sector bodies to use imported food that would be illegal to produce in the UK if they can justify doing so for cost reasons.
MPs from the Commons Food and Rural Affairs Committee have called for closing the breach on hospitals, schools, prisons and government departments, warning ministers should “lead by example” on food standards.
The government points out that importing hormone-containing beef or chlorinated chicken would be illegal and Commerce Secretary Liz Truss, who has negotiated with Australia, has pledged not to lower food import standards.
Further, the Conservative manifesto states: “In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high standards for environmental protection, animal welfare and food.”
However, fears have arisen that the combination of the buying loophole and Australian pressure for a deal, could mean that people in institutions are being offered cheaper products that go against production standards. Britain and cause further ecological damage.
It includes meat from pigs reared in confined stalls for sows which are banned in the UK and from cattle treated with growth hormones which are banned in the EU; sheep’s wool with painfully cut backs and powdered eggs from battery hens, banned in Britain since 2012.
Farmers in Australia and the United States are using artificial hormones to fatten cattle faster, even though at least one of them is suspected to be carcinogenic.
And chicken carcasses are often washed with chlorine to kill bacteria that have infected birds, according to evidence from Compassion in World Farming submitted to the government.
Campaigners say the move would also hurt British farmers and be detrimental to human and animal health.
The warnings echo those given about chlorinated chicken and hormone-filled beef from the United States under a trade deal.
Rob Percival of the Soil Association said: “It would be extremely hypocritical of the UK government to allow the serving of unsustainable meat in schools and hospitals.
“As the host of Cop26, the UK should lead by example, prioritizing the purchase of low-carbon, more well-being food. It means buying from the British and serving less, better quality meat. “
He called for the loophole to be urgently closed to avoid exporting carbon emissions and ‘betraying’ UK citizens and farmers.
David Bowles, RSPCA Public Affairs Officer, said The independent Australian farm animals outnumbered those in the UK, with just 7 percent of free-range hens, compared to 55 percent in Britain.
Merino wool sheep are subjected to “mulesing”, where folds of the skin and flesh are cut without anesthesia to prevent flies, an illegal practice in the UK, he said.
And a recent report commissioned by the Australian government last month revealed “big problems” with the humanity of slaughter in slaughterhouses that would fail British standards.
“I would also say that their level of farming is not as good as it is here. The standards are worse and the standards of care are worse, ”he said. And he warned the government not to break its promise on animal welfare.
Martin Lines, UK Chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: ‘Farmers across the UK have worked tirelessly to voice concerns about the threat of being undercut by low-quality imported produce, and these concerns about potential imports of environmentally unfriendly environmental standards. High-carbon, Australian meat is exactly what we were afraid of.
Kate Norgrove, WWF, said: “It is essential that any new trade deal to which the UK government signs up ensures that all food sold in the UK, including that served in hospitals and schools, is produced in a way that is protect people’s health and the environment. “
Australia is the only developed country on the list of the world’s 24 biggest deforestation hotspots, she said.
Ms Truss told the BBC’s Andrew Marr last month: “I can absolutely promise that we are not going to lower our excellent food standards to get this trade deal done.”
In their report, MPs said they were “surprised and disappointed” that government purchasing standards were not used to improve animal welfare, sustainability and support for domestic producers.
They wrote: “In addition to sending the wrong message about the importance of such standards, it is inappropriate for the government to advocate high food production standards for imports in future trade agreements when part of our industry public is exempt. The loophole, even if it is seldom used, must be closed. “
A government spokesperson said: “This government has made it clear that in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high standards for environmental protection, animal welfare and food. , and we will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure the implementation of any future trade agreements. living up to the values of UK farmers and consumers.
“We will not undermine our own reputation for quality by lowering our food and animal welfare standards as part of a trade deal.”