The US ambassador to Britain has attacked warnings that a post-Brexit trade deal will see chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-pumped beef arrive on supermarket shelves, branding them “inflammatory and misleading” smears.
In a strongly worded rebuke to critics of a proposed deal, Woody Johnson dismissed negative claims over agriculture as “myths” concocted by “people with their own protectionist agenda”.
The billionaire diplomat, whose fortune derives from the Johnson & Johnson dynasty, said a transatlantic trade deal would provide a “great opportunity” for both countries.
“But the British public has been led to believe otherwise,” he wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph.
“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.”
As Donald Trump’s man in London, Johnson has made several interventions in the Brexit debate, as well as commenting on issues such as military spending and foreign police involving Iran.
His missive in defence of American farmers was reminiscent of his boss’s plain-speaking approach to diplomacy and echoed Trump’s own criticism of EU protectionism.
Warning Brussels’ “Museum of Agriculture” approach is not sustainable, Johnson said: “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.”
On chlorine-washed chicken, he said the process was the same as that used by EU farmers to treat their fruit and vegetables.
Describing it as a “public safety no-brainer”, he insisted it was the most effective and economical way of dealing with “potentially lethal” bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter.
Johnson said American cattle farmers been had been “unfairly attacked for decades”, explaining that US ranchers want to produce meat using fewer resources at a lower cost to both the environment and the consumer.
While the EU “claims the moral high ground” for its choice not to use growth hormones in cattle production, scientific consensus has been “very clear” that it remains completely safe to eat the meat, he said.
“The picture you are being painted of American agriculture bears no resemblance to the reality on the ground,” he said.
“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.”
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) raised concerns over food safety and animal welfare standards when the negotiating objectives were announced on Friday.
“It is imperative that any future trade deals, including a possible deal with the USA, do not allow the imports of food produced to lower standards than those required of British farmers,” NFU president Minette Batters said.
Jim Moseley, chief executive of the Red Tractor farm and food standards assurance scheme, said “the UK’s food standards are now under threat from the commercial appetites of the United States food lobby”.
“British people deserve better than having their world-leading food standards sold out from underneath them,” he added.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “We have always been very clear that we will not lower our food standards as part of a future trading agreement.”
But Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron, a supporter of the Best for Britain campaign for a new referendum, said: “It’s clear that the US… wants to flood us with chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-pumped beef.
“But the British people won’t be force-fed low-quality products or a bad Brexit deal.”