Allowing hormone-treated US beef to be sold in Britain after Brexit would create “an unnecessary and unacceptable risk to public health”, a report has warned.
Food safety standards should not be used as a “bargaining chip” as Britain strikes trade deals after we leave the European Union, the paper by the Food Research Collaboration says.
In Hormone-Treated Beef: Should Britain accept it after Brexit? Professors Erik Millstone and Tim Lang also called on farmers, supermarkets and butchers to make “explicit commitments to consumers never to produce or sell hormone-treated beef”.
The report, published on Friday, warns that unlabelled hormone-boosted meat could enter the food chain while still illegal in the EU, risking a boycott of British exports.
Countries including the US and Canada allow the use of hormones to boost muscle growth in cattle, but the meat from these animals is banned in the EU.
Dr Lang, professor of food policy at City, University of London, said: “The UK Government should ensure either that food standards remain fully aligned with EU standards, or that we adopt higher standards.
“There is a triple risk here: to health, to British beef farmers’ livelihoods, and to the UK’s ability to determine its own food safety standards.
“Hormone use is a test case for whether the UK seeks a more sustainable food supply.
“Hormone use would be a stupid step towards intensive beef feeding lots.”
Fears over food standards post-Brexit have already been voiced as the Government seeks trade deals with countries around the world.
In June Compassion in World Farming said the UK will come under intense pressure to accept lower standards once its food production industry is removed from EU structures which currently guarantee high welfare for animals.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has already made clear the UK will have to adopt American standards in order to secure a post-Brexit trade deal, the charity said.
It is also one of the many sticking points involving the Irish border, with British acceptance of the hormone-infused cattle seen as incompatible with a soft line between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
In July Environment Secretary Michael Gove tried to reassure MPs a deal with the US might not hinge on the issue of lower food safety, saying high standards were important to the British people.
He told the European Scrutiny Committee: “That’s why I’ve been clear that in any trade agreement we secure with America or any other country, we shouldn’t see a dilution of those standards.
“Some have said that means it would be impossible to secure a free trade agreement, but I think they are falling prey to the temptation to make the perfect the enemy of the good.”
The report warns that Public Health England, the Food Standards Agency and Environment Agency, who all have roles in protecting food standards, would need a funding increase.
Mr Millstone, professor of science policy at the University of Sussex, said: “The idea that, once the UK leaves the EU, it will become a rule-maker, not a rule-taker, is illusory.”
A Government spokesman said: “The Environment Secretary has been absolutely clear that we will not water down our high food safety and animal welfare standards as a result of any future free trade agreements.
“Artificial growth hormones are banned in both domestic production and imported meats. This will remain the case when we leave the European Union.”