Not for the first time, the US ambassador to the United Kingdom, Woody Johnson, last week insisted that the UK must lower its food standards if it wants to trade with the USA post-Brexit. In an article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Mr Johnson referred to our existing food regulations as coming from the “European museum of agriculture” before he put forward an unconvincing case for the virtues of chlorinated chicken.
It is no coincidence that Mr Johnson’s assault on Britain’s food standards closely followed the publication of a US government document entitled “United States-United Kingdom Negotiations: Summary of Specific Negotiating Objectives”. In that document, the US government states that it wants “comprehensive market access” for its food products and expects the UK to abandon the European Union’s food safety, animal welfare, and environmental protection standards.
The headline-grabbing chlorinated chicken is but one of many differences in food standards between the EU and the USA. For example, livestock farmers in the US are permitted to use growth hormones and antibiotics that are currently banned here. Similarly, over eighty pesticides banned by the EU are still in use in American farming. The EU has set maximum safe levels for pesticide residues in food, a requirement that is not mirrored in the USA. Food labelling in the USA is not subject to the same level of regulation as ours currently is. US citizens, for example, do not even have the right to know whether the food they are buying contains genetically modified organisms.
Thanks to our membership of the European Union, Britain’s’ food standards are amongst the highest in the world. Yet, even with those standards in place, we still experienced a shocking horsemeat scandal in 2013. There is certainly no health or welfare case for those existing standards to be weakened.
The UK is a net importer of food. Life outside the EU will inevitably lead to more and more pressure from the USA and other non-EU food exporting nations for the UK to lower its standards.
A few months ago, Michael Gove, the pro-Brexit secretary of state for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gave a speech in which he included a reassurance that leaving the EU would not lead to a lowering of food standards. Strange, then, that the government’s Agriculture Bill currently passing through parliament, below the radar of Brexit, fails to include that commitment.
Life outside the EU was always going to be a challenge for a nation unable to feed itself and therefore heavily dependent on food imports. It is alarming that the UK government makes no commitment to the maintenance of existing food regulations in this key piece of proposed legislation. Brexit is a mess from whichever viewpoint you look at it, but it must not be allowed to trigger a race to the bottom when it comes to the quality of the food that we eat.
Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day, and given that I have Irish ancestry it’s about time I posted a recipe to mark this famous annual celebration.
This simple vegan interpretation of the classic Irish stew is hearty and delicious. The stew is great just as it is, but works particularly well with some steamed cabbage or greens and roast potatoes.
For this recipe I used Guinness, which these days is vegan-friendly, but any similar stout would work well. If you’d prefer to omit it altogether, substitute more vegetable stock.
vegan Irish stew
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
200 g organic button mushrooms, cleaned
2 leeks, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped diagonally into ½ cm slices
300 g potatoes, cut into 2-3 cm chunks
1 x 400 g can organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 bay leaves
½ tsp dried sage
½ tsp dried rosemary
440 ml stout
250 ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
½ tsp sea salt
1 tbsp buckwheat or other gluten-free flour
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
chopped fresh parsley
1. Pour the olive oil into a large pan and place over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring every so often, until the onion has become soft and translucent. Add the garlic, mushrooms, leek, celery, carrot and potatoes and stir to combine. Next, add the bay leaves, sage and rosemary, along with the flour. Stir for 2 minutes, ensuring that the flour is evenly distributed.
2. Pour in the vegetable stock, a little at a time, and stir, making sure there are no lumps from the flour. Next, add the stout, soy sauce and sea salt. Bring to a simmer, stirring every so often, then reduce the heat. Add the drained chickpeas and bring back to a simmer.
3. Reduce the heat and cook for a further 35 minutes, or until the potatoes and carrots are tender. Serve immediately.