Brian Feeney raises a real issue facing farmers with regard to Brexit…
…last week US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross was quite clear that if the UK wants a trade deal with the US after Brexit they will have to jettison EU food standards. Chlorine-washed chicken is the least of it.
Some chickens are dosed with antihistamines to tenderise their meat. Others have been treated with ketamine, a hallucinogenic drug, yet others with steroids.
And, as Brian hints, it’s not the only issue that’s worrying the Ulster Farmers Union. GM is so pervasive in the US that it’s not even labelled as such. It’s not banned from the EU as such, but it has to be labelled and that has the effect of curtailing market sales.
Chlorine washed chicken is indicative of a genuine departure in the philosophy of food regulation, with the long-established EU principle of the precautionary principle over evidence. But then again the US doesn’t do farm to fork regulation: checking only at market entry.
The high demand for chicken may mean that any putative impact on local farmers is low. Growth hormones like BST in meat and milk are likely to be a much more real challenge in terms of Northern Irish farmers retaining a hold of the UK domestic market and to the EU.
Farmers can, have and will continue to change and diversify. But, you would have to ask yourself, how likely is that the Tory party (whose MPs disproportionately represent the rural areas likely to be most adversely affected by any such decision) will go for such a deal?
Consider too that the Labour spokesman for farming has spoken on all of these issues as key blocks to a functional future food policy.
Somehow, it’s fast becoming a self-deluding nationalist shibboleth that all Unionist moves are shortsighted and stupid. However, a glance at the political record suggests that this is a vast underestimation of their opponents: who now have the only NI ball in the game at their feet.
The problem with almost all speculation on Brexit and what it will look like when it finally emerges is that it is trying to commentate on a whole bunch of variables as though they were points that are already fixed. They aren’t, and they won’t be until the deal is known.
As a still convinced Remainer, I really struggle to see what advantages Brexit can offer us that we don’t have in our hands already. But I also try not to make the mistake of believing that the Brexiteers will make all the stupid mistakes we can possibly imagine for them.
In this respect, they are right to suggest that a good outcome (Eurosceptics now regularly cite the once hated Lisbon Treaty which lays solemn Article 8 obligations upon the EU in this regard) is in the interests of both the EU and the UK.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty