Trade Wars – The superbug edition

The problem, say the Brits, is exactly as advertised: that the beef is US born & raised. And not just the beef, but the pork, chicken, and turkey, as well.

Britain’s beef bashing arose this week, The Guardian reports, as US trade reps in London are attempting to negotiate new contracts on food and agriculture in anticipation of Britain leaving the European Union.

As things stand, US meat is about as welcome over there as the flu virus. The EU already bans imports of American beef throughout the continent, mainly because of the free use of growth hormones in the US. And a row apparently broke out over the potential for imports of US chlorinated chicken, also banned by the EU. Bleaching chicken, according to UK experts, is a dangerous practice because it can serve to disguise poor hygiene practices in the food chain.

But the hot item is the overuse of antibiotics in food animals. The UK science-based NGO, Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, is urging their government to stick to their guns and not import US meat because:

US cattle farmers are massively overusing antibiotics. This finding shows the huge advantages of British beef, which is often from grass-reared animals, whereas US cattle are usually finished in intensive feedlots. Trade negotiators who may be tempted to lift the ban on US beef should not only be considering the impact of growth hormones, but also of antibiotic resistance due to rampant antibiotic use.

 

It’s precisely this kind of farming that gives rise to superbugs such as MRSA – bacteria that antibiotics have zero effect on – that can kill or cause serious illness. This chart from the US Centers for Disease Control shows the relationship between farm and fork:

 

Notice something. By the time the meat arrives overseas, one of the two modes of transmission of the bugs from the farm to you has already been cut out – bugs moving through the environment, shown in the bottom half of the diagram. The Brits’ sole concern, therefore, is with the upper half of the diagram – meat that has been contaminated with the bugs (which are trickier to get rid of than you’d think). In other words, the Brits are unwilling to be exposed to even half the risk of infection from these bugs that Americans are forced to live with.

And what is Washington’s reasoned response to the health concerns raised by the UK? Ted McKinney, US under-secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, told an audience of British farmers last month he was “sick and tired” of hearing British concerns about chlorinated chicken and US food standards.

 

 

 

 

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