Fitness star of the moment Joe Wicks and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have joined chef Jamie Oliver to urge the public to write to their MPs to ask that low-quality food imports are not permitted under a new trade deal.
The new campaign is called Save our Standards, and features a range of other high-profile names in food and media including TV presenters Anita Rani and Jimmy Doherty.
It marks a new celebrity focus on the food standards issue that has been hailed as a potential “game-changer” by influential trade magazine the Grocer. In an editorial, the magazine said: “The government will be able to shake off defeats in the Lords and cries for transparency from the opposition, but a celebrity chef with a talent for prime-time campaigning documentaries is a different matter.”
Launched via a social media video post, the campaign also includes a petition, and a letter template to write to MPs. Hosted by Bite Back, a group that aims to help young people understand the food system, this new campaign builds on Oliver’s previous backing of a petition by farming union NFU.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the group said: “The UK is at a crossroads that will affect what we eat for generations to come. The trade deals we’re currently negotiating with countries across the world will determine what ends up on our supermarket shelves and in our shopping baskets.”
The threat of a US trade deal on food gained attention this summer as the government debates a new Agriculture Bill, which will shape farming subsidies and support post-Brexit. As part of the bill, campaigners have fought to include an amendment that would effectively ban imports of food that do not meet the legal standards of production in the UK.
The amendment on food standards was backed by the Lords in a vote last week, but returns to the Commons for a crunch vote by MPs that will ultimately decide what goes into law later this month.
The issue of imported lower-quality food has centred around products such as chlorinated chicken, where meat is be washed in chlorine due to the lower animal welfare conditions of production. Other controversial foods include hormone-injected beef, as well as the high levels of pesticides permitted on US food production.
The government insists that no trade deal will be allowed to erode food standards but has not gone as far as to vote to put that pledge into law as part of the Agriculture or any other Bill.
The Save our Standards campaign highlights the impact of low-quality food imports on children’s health, as well as the effect of toxic chemicals on bees and low standards of animal welfare.
The group’s letter continued: “We all want trade – but let’s not enter a race to the bottom and allow low quality products to flood the UK. Chlorinated chicken will be just the tip of the iceberg. We’re talking about meat produced with growth hormones and high amounts of antibiotics, crops grown with illegal pesticides that are harmful to bees, and a flood of sugary and ultra-processed products, promoted with massive marketing spends and without clear labelling to tell us what we’re really eating.
“Let us build a healthier Britain. We must not trade away our children’s futures.”