When supermarkets are more interested in protecting consumers than politicians
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Andy Newman is applauding a new stance taken by supermarket Aldi
At first glance, the cut-price food retailer Aldi would seem to have little in common with top-end middle class favourite supermarket Waitrose. But last week the German discounter joined Waitrose in vowing that it will never sell chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef. This is a stand which is to be encouraged, and other supermarkets may well have to follow suit if they want to retain our custom.
It has come to something when the big retailers – often portrayed as the enemy of the consumer – have to step in to provide leadership on animal welfare and food standards, and to ensure that British consumers are not poisoned. That they have had to do so is indicative of a monumental failure of leadership amongst our politicians, and a further exposure of the many lies which were peddled during the Brexit referendum campaign.
One of the key arguments put forward by those in favour of leaving the EU is that we should be free as a country to set our own standards, rather than have them “dictated” to us by the EU (even if the European body which sets such rules is democratically elected).
That sounds fine in principle, but what has happened is that we are simply taking control back from the EU and immediately handing it to those countries with which we will be forced to seek trade agreements in a desperate attempt to replace the tariff-free access to Europe we are throwing away.
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Those publicity-hungry populist politicians who love posturing on our TV screens were noticeably silent when the third reading of the Agriculture Bill went through parliament in May. Those who you might have expected to man the barricades about giving away sovereignty meekly filed into the lobbies to support a bill which will open up the UK markets to food imports which don’t have to meet the same environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards as UK producers.
Those British farmers who will see their produce undercut by imports which are unsafe, unethical and environmentally damaging could be forgiven for being cynical about the benefits of “taking back control”.
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Which is why we as consumers should be grateful to those supermarkets which are taking a stand on our behalf. Our American-born prime minister may feel it’s OK to chummy up to rich and powerful food producers in the land of his birth, but the majority of Brits want nothing to do with the truly dreadful food produced by that nation.
In case you don’t know what the fuss about chlorinated chicken is all about, let me explain. Because production and hygiene standards are so much lower in the US than here (because we benefit from some of the highest food standards in the world, thanks entirely to the EU), many American poultry producers wash chicken carcasses in water containing chlorine dioxide.
In theory this is to kill organisms such as E coli, salmonella and campylobacter. The problem is that it doesn’t work. Aside from the fact that chlorates ingested in high doses are toxic to humans, you are seven times more likely to get food poisoning in the US than in the UK, and study after study has shown that chlorine washing is simply ineffective at removing harmful pathogens.
In short, the only way to ensure food safety is to apply high standards of husbandry and production throughout the process. Which is why we are mad to abandon the brilliant EU food safety regime in order to chase trade deals we only need because we are turning our backs on our nearest – and biggest by far – market.
Make no mistake, if we allow such food into the country, we will all end up eating it, despite our supermarkets taking a stand on our behalf. Even if there is clear labelling (and US trade negotiators are reported to be insisting on banning country of origin labelling as a pre-condition of any trade deal – another spectacular fail in the bid to take back control), you won’t know where the chicken in your lunchtime sandwich, or your bucket of wings, or your curry house vindaloo will have come from.
Research shows that nine out of 10 Britons support maintaining the ban on chlorinated chicken. It is an indication of where our democracy has got to that politicians feel able to ignore such strong sentiment and vote the bill allowing this abomination onto our shelves through on the nod.
Bringing democracy back to Westminster may have been a noble aim of those who supported Brexit. In reality, it has simply failed.