President Donald Trump has vowed to renegotiate America's trade deals, and sees the UK's departure from the European Union an opportunity to do just that.
America's farmers also see an opportunity. They are lobbying trade negotiators in the hope that Brexit opens the UK to American exports currently held back by EU restrictions: genetically engineered food, beef raised with hormones, and chicken dipped in chlorine. EU rules have long prevented the import of some US-produced foods, a problem that has frustrated negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and US.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, the country's main farm lobby, told BuzzFeed News the EU has had "issues over technology" permitted in American food production.
"There is populist concern on GMOs," for instance, even though the medical community has deemed genetically engineered foods safe for consumption, said Farm Bureau spokesman William Rodger.
The Farm Bureau has not estimated the size of the UK market for such products, "but we do want the opportunity," Rodger said. As it stands, US exports of agricultural, fish, and forestry products to the UK reached a record $3 billion in 2015, according to the US Department of Commerce. A lot of that was alcohol.
But that could change, with chlorinated birds leading the way.
Some US chicken producers use chlorine baths to disinfect their meat in case it was contaminated during slaughter, a practice that has been banned in Europe since the 1990s. The US is the world’s largest producer of broiler chickens and exported about 19% of production in 2015, with Mexico, Canada, and Hong Kong being the largest export markets, according to the National Chicken Council.
“We’re asking for our chance to compete,” said Rodger. “If Britons are afraid of these techniques, they won’t buy food produced with them. That’s their right, regardless if it’s irrational.”
At a joint news conference with Trump last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May said: "We are discussing how we can establish a trade negotiation agreement, take forward immediate high-level talks, lay the groundwork for UK–US trade agreement, and identify the practical steps we can take now in order to enable companies in both countries to trade and do business with one another more easily."
GMOs have skyrocketed in American farming since they were introduced two decades ago. Nearly all the soy and corn produced in the US is now genetically engineered, which means most foods sold in America also contain genetically engineered ingredients. According to the the Office of the US Trade Representative, "Currently, exports of US corn have been adversely impacted because of concerns that the exports may contain a low level presence of biotech crops that have not yet received EU approval resulting in the entire shipment being rejected."
In beef production, the US Food and Drug Administration allows the use of steroid hormones (though not in pork, poultry, or dairy cows). According to the FDA, the hormones "are typically formulated as pellets or 'implants' that are placed under the skin on the back side of the animal’s ear. The implants dissolve slowly under the skin and do not require removal. The ears of the treated animals are discarded at slaughter and are not used for human food."
The EU bans "the import of meat and meat products from animals treated with certain hormones," which the World Trade Organization in 1998 said violated WTO obligations, as it was not supported by scientific evidence, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.
Venessa Wong is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Wong covers the food industry.
Contact Venessa Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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