2007 - 2021

Global Britain and the Threatened Sausage

As the summer looms and the Delta variant spreads, the Sausage Wars intensify. Joe Biden arrives in Cornwall to chide Boris Johnson for his catastrophic handling of the Norther Ireland Protocol and while the leaders and wives posed for photo-ops in reality Biden ordered US officials to hand Boris Johnson an unprecedented diplomatic rebuke for endangering the Northern Ireland peace process over Brexit. Yael Lempert, America’s most senior diplomat in Britain, told Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, that the government was “inflaming” tensions in Ireland with its opposition to checks at ports in the province. In an extraordinary move, Lempert said she had been instructed to take the extreme step of issuing London with a demarche: a formal diplomatic reprimand rarely exchanged between allies. The press was largely silent on this unprecedented moment.

As Sammy Wilson poses proudly with his staunch sausages Brexit Britain grinds to a halt in it’s own farce. The chasm between the grandiose claims of Liberty and the reality of not being able to move sausages is huge. So we are left with Sammy and Cold War Steve and Juliet Julia Hartley-Brewer saying: “Many worried that Northern Ireland had effectively been thrown under a bus to deliver Brexit for the rest of the UK. I, as a Brexiteer, hold my hands up to that, as a price worth paying.” 

If the disdain for Ireland and other parts is barely concealed by the nuttier end of the Brexit commentariat it’s rife too in government. The trade minister Ranil Jayawardenena said: “It is wrong that anyone should be threatening the British sausage. We will stand up for the British sausage and no-one will ever be able to destroy it.”

From statue defenders to sausage defenders.

Brexit was sold on a long list of claims, that “we” would take back control, assert sovereignty and be liberated from the boot and heel of the dreaded EU. We would “protect our borders” control immigration and restrict free movement. The reality is that ‘Global Britain’ can’t send sausages to Northern Ireland.

The grace period is nearly over and the marching season is nearly upon us. Sammy and his sausages might seem funny but it will be decidedly less comic on the 12 July when loyalist mobs unleash their sausage-rage.

The fact that it was dark money that channeled £435,000 to the DUP’s Brexit campaign, that helped create this farce will mean nothing to the permanently triggered protestants who feel hoodwinked and conned by Boris Johnson.

As Anand Menon has put it: “The UK has unilaterally delayed putting in place some of the measures the EU says the protocol implies (notably a ban on the export of chilled meat – including sausages – across the Irish Sea) and is threatening to delay still further. There are further arguments to come, as the grace periods end and – absent agreement on “technical” matters large and small – border checks begin on everything from food products and parcels on 1 October, to medicines at the start of next year. The blunt fact is that the UK signed up to this agreement, and the EU has legitimate expectations that we will implement it.”

So things are going to get worse and Johnson’s incompetence and intransigence not only threatens the peace of Norther Ireland but also undermines the possibility of a US trade-deal, the big thing the Brexiteeers are pinning their hopes on.

Beyond this is the bigger question of food regulations. And this is what this is really about. While the British try desperately to shunt the blame onto the Europeans the reality is that the UK does not formally abide by EU rules and doesn’t want to?

Deregulated food standards have always been at the heart of the Brexit plan.

But whilst Sausage Wars might be a new terrain, there is a long backstory to this crisis.

Just one example that made unionist politicians and commentators absolutely livid, was the Scottish Government having a different policy on GM foods. Scotland’s policy in this area is one rooted in a European-wide anti-GM network and in the precautionary principle. It makes good business sense. It must be defended.

In 2013 the Scottish Government laid out the following principles which guided their policy:

The precautionary principle – insufficient evidence has been presented that GM crops are safe.

The preventative principle – the cultivation of GM crops could tarnish Scotland’s natural environment and damage wider aspects of the Scottish economy such as tourism and the production of high quality, natural food

The democratic principle – science-based decision making cannot replace the will of the people. There is no evidence of a demand for GM products by Scottish consumers.

The fact that the Scottish government has put together these sound, well-reasoned principles to guide their opposition gives us real hope that Scotland can be a strong voice against the pro-GM lobby in the years to come, and we can focus our attention on building a sustainable food system for the next generation. But the very idea of Scotland charting a different path was the cause of apoplexy by many journalists and politicians.

Far from Scotland being some kind of parochial outlier, in our GM policy we had in fact joined a global resistance. India has not approved a single genetically modified food crop for human consumption. Only four African nations—South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Sudan permit the commercial use of products that contain G.M.O.s. Other countries involved in bans and restrictions throughout the world include: Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil and Paraguay.

This is just one area that is about to come under sustained attack.

Food standards are not just an issue for obscure policies and technical details, they are the basis for our health and wellbeing they are the basis for our food sovereignty. Without food sovereignty – without control over what our children eat – we are nothing. And this battle lands in a country where there are already massive issues about poverty, health and wellbeing, and in which Scotland in particular faces huge challenges about our dietary health.

In a country in which 1.5 million people are already reliant on foodbanks, further price rises and disruptions this aren’t good news and likely to hugely exacerbate inequality.

As Ash Sarker explained back in 2018: “Hard Brexit has never been about sovereignty – it’s about creating a legislative bonfire to decimate protections enshrined in law, and hold the UK hostage to corrupt corporate interests.”

Hard Brexit as a form of hyper-nostalgia is the emergent form, a new isolationism in a country that already has a disastrous relationship with food. In a country that has concentrated the food system into the hands of a handful of companies, that has a population more divorced from land, nature, seasonality and place than almost anywhere else in Europe, and that already has staggering food poverty and insecurity, Brexit-style shortages aren’t going to arrive into a context of resilience, balance and plenty. They will arrive into a context of childhood obesity, diabetes and deep cultural ignorance.
The reason that protecting food policy is important to Scotland is interesting. On the one hand we have some of the greatest natural resources in food and an image of food that we can project and build on. But the flip-side of that is that we have huge issues about our diet, about our obsession with export growth, about our salmon industry, about our obesity epidemic, about our diet-related ill-health that we desperately need to confront. Some of these myths – say about basing food policy on export growth make even less sense in a post-covid post-Brexit world than they did before.

Spam Democracy

Nor does this particularly virulent form of Disaster Capitalism derive from the popular will as routinely claimed. This isn’t happening with just the momentum of The People but with the organised will groups with direct economic interest. On food standards and regulations there’s a feeding frenzy of right-wing think-tanks queuing up to divvy-up your rights to good (or at least nominally safe) food. As the dearth of foreign workers leaves crops rotting in the ground the glee with which policy makers are eyeing up the potential profits of a free trade agreement is undeniable. Politically, for both the Trump administration and Boris Johnson’s beleaguered government this would be a rabbit out of the hat moment, a vindication of the Global Britain rhetoric for Boris and a clarion of American Means Business for Trump.

As long ago as 2018 the environmental group Unearthed revealed the reality of the Anglo-American trade deal after a transatlantic network of conservative think tanks accidentally published its secret plans to influence US-UK trade negotiations. They revealed: “Documents outline plans to form an “unprecedented” coalition of hard-Brexit and libertarian think tanks, which will call for Britain to ditch strict EU safety standards – including rules on food and pharmaceuticals – in order to secure a sweeping US-UK trade deal.”

A report by the Soil Association highlights 10 concerns about food safety in a post-Brexit era that ushers up the ghost of the 4.4. million cows killed as result of the BSE crisis. These foods are currently banned in the UK:

  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). Includes the birds’ faeces.
  5. Atrazine-treated crops (banned in the EU). Atrazine is a herbicide used on 90% of sugar cane, which can enter into the water supply and interfere with wildlife.
  6. Genetically modified foods (banned in the EU).
  7. Brominated vegetable oil (banned in the EU). BVO is used in citrus drinks; Coca-Cola announced it would stop using BVO in 2004.
  8. Potassium bromate (banned in the EU). A dough conditioner also banned in China, Brazil and Canada, in tests on rats it has been found to be a possible carcinogen.
  9. Azodicarbonamide. A bleaching agent for flour, it has been linked to an increase in tumours in rats.
  10. Food colourants (banned in the UK, regulated in the EU). Can lead to hyperactivity in children.
This is your Brexit Recipe Book. This is what your cupboards and your super-market shelves will be brimming with if Britain’s corporate ambition gets its wishes.
If we can now see the corporate vultures circling around the carcass of Brexit Britain we can also see the deep-irony that the communities most likely to be hit hard by a further deregulated food system are those already disfigured by inequality and diet-related ill-health.

This is a new era of hunger and food madness.

 

 

 

Comments (25)

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  1. Mouse says:

    Does anyone know why chlorine-washed chicken is banned, but chlorine-washed packaged greens is an EU stipulation? All packaged leafy greens we eat are chlorinated. And it’s law.

    Do people that are terrified about chlorinated chicken visit public swimming pools?

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      It’s not consuming chlorine itself that the EU is worried about; in fact, in 2005 the European Food Safety Authority said that ‘exposure to chlorite residues arising from treated poultry carcasses would be of no safety concern’, and chlorine-rinsed bagged salads are common in the UK and other countries in the EU. Rather, the EU believes that relying on a chlorine rinse at the end of the meat production process could be a way of compensating for poor hygiene standards, such as dirty or crowded abattoirs.

      1. Mouse says:

        There isn’t much free-range poultry meat consumed in the UK. Although the UK’s animal husbandry regulations are as about as stringent as it gets, they are packed-in in their thousands, shitting through a grid floor. I presume there are fans to extract the ammonia, but it still stinks. I would imagine that’s fairly standard for chicken mass-production. I don’t know about the end process, but I would hope they are at least washed with soap and zapped with UV radiation.

        1. MBC says:

          I watched a programme about an American poultry factory and the filth in which the birds were kept and slaughtered was stomach churning. That’s why they need chlorine washing.

        2. Colin Robinson says:

          Ammonia is a problem in chicken sheds. It can damage the chickens’ eyes and respiratory system and cause hock burns.

          UK regulations relating to chicken farming, which still converge with those of the EU, lay down that slaughtered chickens can only be washed with potable water. Bacteria, which all raw food harbours, is killed by proper heat cooking. There’s really no need for chemical bleaching.

          When I was a lad, back in the ’50s, chicken was a rare treat (we only ate one when it stopped laying). The average Briton ate less than a kilo a year back then; now s/he eats 35 kilos.

  2. Mouse says:

    The article ignores the fact that the UK has stricter food standards regs than the EU. I think that must be called ‘EU washing’.

    1. Iain MacLean says:

      Farming in Scotland is going to be decimated by the trade deals the uk seeks with other countries. Countries such as e.g. Australia, US and Brazil, etc have lower standards, vast economies of scale and can easily under cut costs until the Scottish market is secured and prices then rise. When a dependency is secured, Scotland will no longer have the capability to compete as our farms will have folded and we can be held to ransom!

      We have seen the way fishing going has gone since brexit, the EU Common Fisheries Policy may not have been perfect, but it worked! No market and boats tied up!

      The EU was not perfect, but it worked!

      Brexit is not perfect, and it does not work!

      It may get even worse should the EU impose tariffs on uk goods if the uk breaks the withdrawal agreement!

      You add the fact that people were lied to, and continue to be lied to by the uk government over brexit, you can see why it is going to be increasingly uncomfortable for the uk government, not least in Northern Ireland over the marching season!

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Agriculture in Scotland is going to change because, compared to farming in other countries, it’s inefficient and, without the protectionism of the EU, uncompetitive. Consumers will always go after the best price and, in a freed global market, Scottish agriculture can’t offer the best price on many products. It won’t die, but it will evolve as a culture with the new material conditions that are emerging in the post-Brexit era.

        1. Iain MacLean says:

          I don’t believe Scottish farmers are resistant to change, compare and contrast farming practices now with 1973.

          However, the scale of change required to overcome or more likely part mitigate the imbalance of competition, is too big a leap and the finance required will not available for many.

          I don’t see a bright future for Scottish farmers, they are going to join the long list of those betrayed by the tories over brexit! Meanwhile farmers in Ireland and Denmark will continue producing high quality products for the EU and not be subject to competition they can’t compete with!

          The promise of transparency on trade deals by the uk government has been broken! It’s not immediately obvious what the uk is going to sell to Australia or what Australia wants from the uk?

          That said, Australia can smell uk desperation to sign deals at any price from 12,000 miles away!

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            My point is that, whether they’re resistant to change or not, British farmers have no choice other than to adapt to changes in their business environment. And I’m confident they will.

          2. Tom Ultuous says:

            Colin, if their government has already decided they’re redundant (see link in my post below) how do they adapt? I suppose they could grow fruit and let it rot as they can’t find labour to pick it. If Britain ever goes to war all we’ll have to eat is food tokens.

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            Well, perhaps redundancy is the change in their business environment to which they need to adapt. Maybe food production is not the future for British farmers. Perhaps they’ll need to transition to green energy production or habitat management or the sale of outdoor pursuits as part of the wilderness industry or the heritage industry or something. Life evolves; conservatism isn’t an option; adapt or die.

          4. Tom Ultuous says:

            Don’t get me wrong Colin, I’m a vegan and have no love for farmers but all the Tories are doing is moving the cruelty abroad. During the Brexit debate the Leave side constantly made out we didn’t need anyone as we were “a great nation and a great people” and could become self sustainable. What a joke. It’s going the opposite way.

          5. Colin Robinson says:

            Well, it wasn’t a joke. Independence was rather a serious part of the nationalists’ sales-patter.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    Decades ago I recall a headline in The Sun – “Great British Banger Under Attack From Brussels”. The EU had apparently ruled that British sausages contained too much water and did not qualify as meat. The EU were protecting British consumers from being ripped off. Of course the TV interviewed a few Monty Python Gumby type characters who came up with quotes such as “Well I think they’ve got a bloody cheek. I love my British bangers and mash”.

    Good article Mike.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      The best sausage I’ve ever had in my puff was in a roll in Girona. Though some of die Würstchen in Trier would come a close second.

      Also, Little Britain’s ‘Bangers and Mash’ is as mythic as its ‘Royal Family’.

  4. Donald Fowler says:

    Surprised to see a mention of Salmon industry obliquely mentioned above – a sector Scotland should be value and take pride in its success. A sector that delivers high quality, healthy, safe, nutritious, tasty, low carbon, sustainable fish to millions across the EU and beyond. A highly regulated sector that is an employment and prosperity engine across the Highlands and Islands. Do some checking on the myths promulgated by the anti campaigners – you will find they don’t stand up to any serious scrutiny. The Hullabaloo about Mull farms recently RSPCA investigated .. no evidence of breaches of animal welfare. That doesn’t find its way into the press or breach FB warriors mindset.

    1. I’m stunned that anyone can describe the salmon industry as at delivers “high quality”, “healthy”, or “highly regulated” rather than the chaotic and disgusting industry it is:

      https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2018/09/04/life-aquatic/

      1. Mouse says:

        I know someone who worked on the big Norwegian boat that does the Scottish salmon-farm food and chemicals, and he wouldn’t eat the end result. The whole process is most unappetising, with the emphasis on chemical, and excrement.

        Scots in particular like to eat rubbish food because it’s cheap. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be dyed orange nowadays.

        1. “Scots in particular like to eat rubbish food because it’s cheap” – what offensive nonsense

        2. Colin Robinson says:

          Processed offal, gristle, and ligament does feature prominently in our diets as a good source of cheap protein (which would otherwise be wasted), but this is fairly universal and not particularly prominent in the diets of people living in Scotland.

  5. Michele says:

    Excuse me, which Trump Administration are you talking about towards the end of the article? Perhaps a bit of fact-checking might be in order ….

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