The sale of US bacon produced with additives strong enough to cripple pigs, chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef, have been listed by campaigners as three of the top 10 food safety risks posed by a US free-trade deal.
Use of the pork additive ractopamine alongside the more publicised controversial practice of washing chicken in chlorine or feeding cattle growth hormones have been highlighted in a report by the Soil Association as chief among the concerns of a post-Brexit era.
“Some of the key differences between UK and US production – hormone-treated beef, GM crops and chlorinated chicken – are becoming increasingly understood by British consumers,” the report says.
But there are “other areas where products imported from the US could be produced under significantly different standards to our own” that could find their way to British plates through a free-trade deal with the US, it said.
The report was published to coincide with the second reading of the trade bill, which will provide a framework for post-Brexit trade deals.
Ractopamine, which can add three kilos of extra meat to a pig, is banned by almost every country except the US and its use has been outlawed by the EU since 1996.
However, it is fed to an estimated 60% to 90% of pigs in the US in the weeks before slaughter and has been found to cause disability in animals, including trembling, broken bones and an inability to walk, according to the Soil Association.
The group says it is concerned that there will be pressure to source food from the US after Brexit, particularly if tariffs are imposed on food from elsewhere in the EU.
“The concern is that while Michael Gove [the environment secretary] wants the country to be a leader in animal welfare and food safety … there will be a race to the bottom if British farmers have to compete on price with American food,” said Honor Eldridge, policy officer at the Soil Association.
Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, has long argued that the biggest prize from Brexit would be a trade deal with the US. Farmers and food producers have expressed deep concern that food standards would be compromised in pursuit of a deal.
They have been spooked by a London visit by US President Donald Trump’s most senior business representative who warned that any post-Brexit deal with Washington would hinge on the UK scrapping rules set by Brussels, including regulations governing imports of chlorinated chicken.
Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, suggested European regulations governing the safety of chlorine-washed chicken ignored US scientific research. His comments underline the potential difficulties in striking a free-trade deal with the US once Britain leaves the EU.
“Michael Gove needs to continue to advocate for high British food standards to Liam Fox and the government and for the risks and differences of food standards in the US to be recognised,” said Eldridge.
The full list of controversial practices highlighted by the Soil Association is:
1) Chlorine-washed chicken (banned in the EU).
2) Hormone-treated beef (banned in the EU).
3) Ractopamine in pork (banned in the EU).
4) Chicken litter as animal feed (banned in the EU).
5) Atrazine-treated crops (banned in the EU). A herbicide used on 90% of sugar cane, which can enter the water supply and interfere with wildlife.
6) Genetically modified foods (banned in the EU).
7) Brominated vegetable oil (banned in the EU). Used in citrus drinks. Coca-Cola announced it was stopping the use of BVO in 2004.
8) Potassium bromate (banned in the EU). A dough conditioner also banned in China, Brazil and Canada. Has been found to be a possible carcinogen in rats.
9) Azodicarbonamide. A bleaching agent for flour. Has been linked to an increase in tumours in rats.
9. Food colourants (banned in the UK, regulated in the EU). Can lead to hyperactivity in children.