Something has been rumbling on behind closed doors, with the potential to seriously harm standards of farming and food production across Britain and Europe. Most people remain unaware of the risks and have not been given the chance to vote on the proposal. It's called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP for short.
Jamie and his Food Team have remained focused on responsible standards of food production from the very beginning. Since then, we’ve felt a sense of duty to represent responsible food production, and have campaigned on the topic multiple times. It’s never plain sailing, but we’re always proud to see good progress being made by producers, retailers, and sometimes governments. However, TTIP threatens to become the largest step backwards many of us would ever have seen.
TTIP is a trade deal between the EU and the USA designed to “open up free trade”. If successful, it would allow the EU and the USA to become one common market where anything from washing machines to chicken nuggets could be freely traded. At the moment, trade is limited as various rules (legislation) exist on both sides of the pond, which get in the way of trade and business. At first glance, removing some rules and doing more business sounds like a great idea. However, if you look at the rules that could be removed, the idea doesn’t seem so clever.
TTIP covers all sorts of commodities from electrical goods, food products and cars to services such as healthcare. It’s the food part that concerns us the most.
I have been fortunate enough to visit farms, factories and food producers all over the world, representing the interests of Jamie and our business. It is always reassuring to see that, on average, the UK and Europe have very high standards and practices such as hormone implants in cattle, tonnes of antibiotics going into our chicken, or the bleaching of meat in abattoirs and so on is not an issue. On average, European standards are undoubtedly more ethical, more sustainable, and produce a higher quality product. Most progressive Americans that I’ve met agree this is the case, and look up to Britain and Europe when it comes to the quality of our food.
It is unfair to say that all food production in the USA is terrible, as some excellent examples do exist, and we will continue to support these. Good quality, higher-welfare production is on the increase in the USA, and smaller producers are seeing growing markets for their more ethical products. However, it is the lowest accepted levels we need to be aware of – the lowest common denominators. If successful, TTIP could see Europe’s standards of food production from farm to fork lowered to match the lowest in the USA.
The low levels we are referring to include:
- Intensive chicken produced with heavy use of antibiotics, recycling of chicken faeces into chicken feed, and the chlorine tumbling of carcasses post slaughter
- Beef reared in confinement rather than open pasture. Cattle implanted with hormones to speed up muscle growth, fed on high-energy feed, and washed in lactic acid post slaughter
- Intensively farmed pork from animals kept confined indoors and fed with Ractopamine, a steroid-like drug that’s banned in much of the world
There are widespread concerns about how British and European farmers will survive long term if made to compete against mass-production from the USA. British farms tend to be smaller and more costly to run than the large intensive systems in the USA. This is because “efficiencies” are lower and regulation is higher, but in return they tend to be more sustainable, with higher quality, more safety measures in place and better levels of animal welfare. The truth is, they probably can’t compete, and therefore TTIP could be the last straw for an already fragile industry.
You might think “It’s OK, consumers will support the quality British or European products as they will all be clearly labelled”… well, unfortunately, this can’t happen as discriminating against the big US products would be a sueable offence under the new TTIP rulebook. It sounds impossible, unfair and totally unethical. I really wish TTIP was a bad dream, or somebody could offer a solution that would exclude our food and farming from the deal, but this is yet to happen.
European politics can be difficult to understand, especially when the discussions in Brussels happen in private and press or spectators are banned from observing the progress. I therefore suggest that anybody who is concerned about this issue first looks into it further themselves. If you’ve got the time and want to know more, the following are both really useful…
This quick video explains the basics of TTIP
And if you’re looking for something more comprehensive, here you can find a written guide to TTIP.
You can, of course, make up your own mind on how concerned you are about TTIP. If you’re looking to take action, you have the option to write to your MEP, see if they are in favour of TTIP, and have your say.
Whatever happens in terms of trade, let’s just hope that our wonderful, vital and world-leading food systems can ride the storm, for the benefit of ourselves and future generations.