A free trade deal with the US could see the UK begin imports of genetically modified crops and dilute its food safety standards, the Soil Association has warned.
The environmental charity has released a report detailing ten risks posed by a deal with the US in preparation for the second reading of the Trade Bill 2017-19 in the Commons.
The bill is aimed at replicating the UK’s current trade agreements as a member of the European Union following Brexit.
The preliminary steps towards a UK-US trade deal are currently being taken and trade secretary Liam Fox recently opened preliminary discussions with the US to consider potential opportunities and risks in the negotiations.
Much press emphasis has been placed on chlorine-washed chicken, but there are a host of other regulatory divergences that could undermine UK food standards, the Soil Association has warned.
Two of these centre on the import of GM crops, believed by some to harmful to human health, and use of controversial herbicide Atrazine on corn crops and sugar cane.
The US has wholeheartedly adopted genetic engineering, with 88 per cent of corn and 93 per cent of soy genetically modified in the country, but question marks remain about the safety of genetically modified crops.
In the US new gene-edited products are reaching the market, such as the non-browning Arctic Apple, but in the EU, GM is widely rejected.
The EU protocol for approval, known as the precautionary principle, requires that products be found safe for human health and for the environment, but to date, the EU has approved only one GM crop for cultivation – a maize variety with weevil resistance.
That said, imported GM animal feed is common across the EU.
Under EU legislation, member states have the right to ban GM crops inside their territory and Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have now banned GM crops entirely.
But in June 2017 the US trade representative Robert Lighthizer said the US was considering bringing a World Trade Organisation case against countries that currently have import restrictions on GM products.
Atrazine, meanwhile, has been linked with breast and prostate cancer, as well as a reduction in immune function.
The chemical is estimated to be the second most heavily used herbicide in the US with 73.7 million pounds used in 2013. That year it was applied to more than half of all corn crops, and up to 90 percent of sugar cane.
An EU-wide ban was imposed in 2004 due to its public health risks and its polluting impact on waterways.
In response to these concerns, a Defra spokesperson said the government “will not compromise on animal welfare and food safety.”
She added: “We have been clear that the UK will maintain its own high animal welfare and environmental standards in future free trade agreements.
“Any new products wishing to enter the UK market must comply with our rigorous legislation and standards – we will not compromise on animal welfare and food safety.”