Don’t let smears about U.S. Farms trap Britain into the EU’s Museum of Agriculture

This op-ed by Ambassador Johnson in the Daily Telegraph of March 1st, 2019 (paywall article):

 

Portrait of Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson
Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson

This week the United States published our objectives for a future trade deal with the UK. We are now ready to negotiate the most ambitious and comprehensive trade deal in the history of our special relationship. And of course we want agriculture to be part of those negotiations – it is a great opportunity for both of us.

But the British public has been led to believe otherwise. You have been presented with a false choice: either stick to EU directives, or find yourselves flooded with American food of the lowest quality. Inflammatory and misleading terms like “chlorinated chicken” and “hormone beef” are deployed to cast American farming in the worst possible light.

It is time the myths are called out for what they really are: a smear campaign from people with their own protectionist agenda. There is a difference between American and European agriculture. It is not a question of quality but philosophy.

The EU approach prizes history and tradition over innovation and science. In the United States, we look at the bigger picture. We have to. We export more food than any other country. We take our responsibility to produce safe, affordable food for the rest of the world incredibly seriously.

We cannot overlook the fact that the world population is expected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050. Global food security is absolutely critical. We have to face up to the full range of health, resource and environmental pressures that come from a growing population. It is not sustainable for the whole world to follow the EU’s “Museum of Agriculture” approach. We have to look to the future of farming, not just the past.

American farmers are using all the scientific and technological tools at their disposal to address the challenges ahead. We have developed crops which are more resistant to drought. We have bred innovative new varieties of fruit and vegetables which can stay fresh and help us combat food waste. We have boosted the ability of our animals to fight devastating diseases. We have developed agricultural tools which radically cut the amount of carbon emissions on our farms.

American farmers are making a vital contribution to the rest of the world. Their efforts deserve to be recognised. Instead, they are being dismissed with misleading scare-stories which only tell you half the story. The reality is, as ever, a lot more nuanced.

Take the case of so-called chlorinated chicken. It is true that we wash our chicken to eliminate harmful pathogens – just as European producers do with their fruit and vegetables.

There is very good reason for doing so. The EU’s own Food Safety Authority has found that doing these washes in the processing plant is the most effective and economical way of dealing with potentially lethal bacteria like salmonella and campylobacter. It is not only safe to wash our chicken like this – it is a public safety no-brainer.

American beef has also been unfairly attacked for decades. The EU claims the moral high ground for its choice not to use growth hormones in cattle production. But again, there are good reasons American farmers choose a different path.

They want to produce meat using fewer resources at a lower cost to both the environment and the consumer. The scientific consensus has been very clear that it remains completely safe to eat meat from animals raised in this way. There is no reason to limit imports of American beef – which is why the World Trade Organisation ruled we were fully within our rights to take action against the EU for not complying with its obligations.

The picture you are being painted of American agriculture bears no resemblance to the reality on the ground. The fact is that farmers in America have the same priorities as farmers in Britain. They pass on their farms from one generation to the next. They care deeply about their land and livestock and they take tremendous pride in the food they produce.

You will find the highest quality food in the world in the United States – from our wild salmon, to our world-beating wines, and beef used in only the finest restaurants. If you want food made to the highest standards of sustainability, animal welfare or organic farming, America can offer all of that.

It is always worth hearing the full story. It would be a genuine missed opportunity to buy into the idea that the EU’s traditionalist approach to agriculture is Britain’s only option for a quality and efficient agriculture sector moving forward. You now have the freedom to make your own choices about the way you farm and fish, the products you import, and the technology you utilise. This is the country that once changed the world with the innovations and revolutions that took place on British farms. You could do the same thing again now and together we could shape the agricultural revolution of the future.