Which? Report: USA sets out wish list for post-Brexit food trade deal

Which report
31 January 19

USA sets out wish list for post-Brexit food trade deal

“UK could be asked to accept chicken washed in chlorine and beef and pork fed with growth-promoting hormones.

The UK could be asked to accept more ‘flexible’ food standards if it wants to make a trade deal with the US after Brexit – including accepting practices banned by the EU.

Our research shows people do not want these foods and 90% think it’s important that UK food standards are maintained after Brexit.

Industry groups in the US have given their government wish lists for a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal.

The recurring theme is for the UK to move away from EU food standards and be more flexible on rules on imported foods.

• The US meat industry wants the UK to accept beef and pork from animals that have been fed growth-promoting hormones banned by the EU.

• It also wants the UK to accept imports of beef cuts and pork that have been washed in lactic acid, and chicken that has been washed in chlorine. Currently only whole beef carcasses washed in lactic acid are accepted into the EU.

• Farming groups and medicine manufacturers want to see rules over genetically modified crops changed and those for meat, fish and dairy treated with antibiotics dropped.

• They also want to see crops produced using pesticides and herbicides banned in the EU being allowed into the UK, and for maximum residue limits for pesticides and herbicides to be amended.

Consumers want standards maintained

Our research shows that people do not want these foods and 90% think it’s important that UK food standards are maintained after Brexit.

Other requests from US industry include limiting geographical labelling rules to enable US manufacturers to use EU-protected terms on their products such as prosecco, stilton and parmigiano reggiano.

Sue Davies, strategic policy partner at Which?, says: ‘The US food safety and standards system is weaker than the UK system, and provides a lower level of consumer protection. ‘One in six Americans are estimated to suffer from food-borne illness every year, much higher than in the UK. There must not be any relaxing of food standards – whether for domestically produced food or food that we import – and we should instead be looking at opportunities to enhance standards.’”

Volunteers wanted for Brexit crisis centre

“Government officials are preparing to deal with “putrefying stockpiles” of rubbish in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to documents leaked to the Guardian.

If the UK leaves the EU on 29 March without a deal, export licences for millions of tonnes of waste will become invalid overnight. The Environment Agency (EA) officials said leaking stockpiles could cause pollution.

The EA is also concerned that if farmers cannot export beef and lamb a backlog of livestock on farms could cause liquid manure stores to overflow. A senior MP said the problems could cause a public health and environmental pollution emergency. An EA source said: “It could all get very ugly, very quickly.”

The emails leaked to the Guardian were sent to EA staff, asking for 42 volunteers to staff crisis management centres that would deal with incidents. On Tuesday, the chief executive of the civil service revealed plans to move up to 5,000 staff into an emergency command and control centre in the event of no deal.

An EA email sent on Thursday, labelled “importance: high”, said crisis centres could go live on 18 February and run from 7am to 8pm, seven days a week, with plans to operate 24/7 if needed. To explain the potential tasks, the email gave two examples.

“If there is a no-deal scenario, the current export of waste may cease for a period. This could result in stockpiled waste which causes licence breaches,” the email said. “Odours will obviously be an issue as the stockpiled waste putrefies and there may be runoff of leachates, causing secondary pollution.

The email warned the situation could become a high-profile issue: “It will quickly escalate into a political one because the operators will state that they have no means to move the waste.”

The second example related to animal slurry: “Problems may arise in exporting livestock to the EU. In that situation, farmers may be overstocked and unable to export lamb/beef etc. That means that they may have problems with slurry storage capacity and insufficient land spreading capability.”

“The examples seem like real possibilities,” said the EA source. “There’s a serious amount of panic going on.” One of the emails told EA staff: “We are interested in any volunteers across [the environment and business division] no matter what their level of experience is, their grade, location or incident knowledge.”

Mary Creagh MP, chair of parliament’s environmental audit committee, said: “The UK’s waste and recycling system is already fragile but these shocking emails show it will grind to a halt if customs checks and WTO tariffs prevent the export of millions of tonnes of waste.”

“No deal would be a green light to criminal fraudsters and create a public health and environmental pollution emergency,” she said. “EA officials should not carry the can for the failings of government to get a deal through and this shows how hollow the prime minister’s promises were about protecting the environment if we leave the EU.”

An EA spokesman said: “As with the whole of government and the rest of the public sector, we are preparing responsibly for all scenarios as we exit the EU.”

As well as recycling waste, the UK ships about 3m tonnes of rubbish a year to the EU to be burned in incinerators that generate electricity. Most of this is household rubbish, which is sometimes shredded and has metal removed before being sent abroad. If waste is stockpiled after a no-deal Brexit, industry experts say the populous south-east of England would be worst affected. The UK’s lack of incinerator capacity and shrinking number of landfill sites drives the exports.

The government issued a technical notice in December stating that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, import/export licences issued by the UK would no longer be valid for shipments of waste to the 27 remaining EU countries from the day the UK leaves. The notice added: “There is currently no process set out in the EU waste shipment regulations on how notified shipments … should be re-approved. Defra is contacting other EU countries to discuss arrangements.”

Stuart Hayward-Higham, who leads Brexit planning for Suez, one of the UK’s largest waste management firms, said the EA’s planning was sensible: “It is them just putting things in place in case they need them.” ….”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/01/revealed-plan-to-deal-with-putrefying-stockpiles-of-rubbish-after-no-deal-brexit

“Sidmouth sea defences could cost double the £9m expected”

NOT unexpected to Owl! At the moment, decisions on whether to fund are done on a “cost per dwelling saved” and that factors in the value of the dwelling. As costs rise (and possibly house prices level out ot fall) and austerity continues, the less likely DEFRA is to fund projects.

“The current estimated cost of the project is around £9milion over its entire lifespan – around £5.7million is expected to be funded by central government, leaving a funding gap of around £3.3million.

At a recent steering group committee, additional offshore breakwaters were discussed and it was explained again that although the breakwaters may present a more robust solution technically, they would come at almost double the cost.

The cost has been re-examined recently by consultants Royal HaskoningDHV and they have confirmed that the previous costings as part of the Beach Management Plan were correct.

Royal HaskoningDHV also presented some of the more detailed outline design drawings they are now working on, which have been developed with the use of 3D models to help ensure that costs for the volumes of rock and shingle are estimated accurately.

Additional surveys are being carried out along the seafront to help inform the outline design of the splash wall.

The proposals also include improving maintenance access onto East Beach for future recycling and replenishment.

Royal HaskoningDHV’s thorough tests and methodical approach has resulted in a proposal to recharge the beach with a 10 metre flat section at the top, and a suggested increase in the height of the splash wall of up to 0.5 metres from its existing level, with sections of lower height where the beach is less exposed. …”

https://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/sidmouth-sea-defences-could-cost-double-1-5875210

Environment watchdog ‘Natural England’ in crisis

“Thousands of environmentally important sites across England are coming under threat as the government body charged with their care struggles with understaffing, slashed budgets and an increasing workload.

Natural England has wide-ranging responsibilities protecting and monitoring sensitive sites, including sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) and nature reserves, and advising on the environmental impact of new homes and other developments in the planning stages. Its work includes overseeing national parks, paying farmers to protect biodiversity, and areas of huge public concern such as air quality and marine plastic waste.

But these activities are being impaired by severe budget cuts and understaffing, Natural England employees and other interested parties have told the Guardian. “These are fantastically passionate staff who are worried that the environment is being affected so badly by these cuts,” one frontline staff member said. “There will be no turning back the clock” if we allow sensitive sites to be degraded.

The agency’s budget has been cut by more than half in the past decade, from £242m in 2009-10 to £100m for 2017-18. Staff numbers have been slashed from 2,500 to an estimated 1,500.

Conservation work on sites of special scientific interest is being cut, while farmers are finding it harder to access expert help on countryside stewardship. Work on areas such as air pollution and marine plastics has been cut and many nature reserves are being neglected as vital volunteers cannot be safely trained.

One 11-year veteran of the agency reported low morale and increasing difficulty in managing workloads, with sites left unmonitored for years. They said: “Our work brings economic benefits, environmental benefits, it helps communities. We have suffered disproportionately from the cuts to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs budget. It is such a shame as we have done some amazing and incredible work.”

The Prospect union has investigated the agency and concluded it is “at crisis point”, with staff overstretched and under stress after eight years of a 1% pay cap. The union will launch a report on Tuesday with a call on ministers to increase funding and remove the agency from the pay cap.

“Cuts have left Natural England at the point where its workers are saying they don’t have enough people or resources to do the things they need to do,” said Garry Graham, the deputy general secretary of Prospect. “If we are to be able to regulate our own environment properly after Brexit, it is vital that we cultivate and maintain the skills to do so domestically. We will no longer be able to rely on the EU to do bits of it for us. Once biodiversity is lost, it cannot easily be regained. Now is the time for the government to act.”

One senior manager told Prospect: “[Work on protected sites] is what many of us joined to work on and has been the central focus of much of our conservation work. There are currently no government targets for this work [so] cuts have fallen on work that is not protected, the largest area being SSSI work. That’s the stark reality.”

There have been widespread complaints from farmers over the agency’s failure to make timely payments for the countryside stewardship scheme, under which farmers undertake measures such as improving habitats for wildlife, wildflowers and pollinators. Payments have not been made on time, or fallen short, and many farmers complained of being unable to access the expert advice they need. This has discouraged farmers from applying to the scheme or continuing with it.

Guy Smith, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “We have thousands of members expecting payment from agri-environment schemes completely in the dark over when these already late payments will be made. It is imperative that Defra and its agencies give this priority.”

The Woodland Trust has called on Natural England to update a vital registry of trees, currently looked after by only one staff member. The registry helps campaigners to protect woodland resources that may be threatened by development and can help save money for developers at the planning stages. Updating it would cost about £1.5m over five years.

Abi Bunker, the trust’s director of conservation, said: “We recognise the pressures Natural England are under. It is frustrating when adequate progress cannot be made on updating the ancient woodland inventory, resulting in our rarest habitat being put at unnecessary risk.”

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP who has asked a series of parliamentary questions on Natural England’s plight, said: “Behind the veil of Michael Gove’s fluffy rhetoric about caring for the environment, ministers have systematically gutted the agency that looks after irreplaceable habitats and beautiful landscapes. The result is plummeting morale as staff simply don’t have the resources to monitor thousands of protected sites across England, ultimately putting spaces for wildlife at risk of irreversible destruction.”

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesman, said: “Farmers need certainty, the environment needs protection and Natural England needs a proper budget to do it. Instead Defra is failing in its duties.”

Defra’s budget has been one of those worst hit by austerity cuts. There has been a recent increase in staffing and funding but only to deal with the expected impact of Brexit on farmers and food supplies so those extra resources are unlikely to have a positive impact on Natural England’s work.

Marian Spain, the interim chief executive of Natural England, said: “Inevitably, cuts of almost 50% to the Natural England budget over the last five years have meant changes to the way we do things. Since taking on my role in December, meeting staff and hearing about the pressures they face has been one of my top priorities.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “The work of Natural England and its staff to protect our invaluable natural spaces, wildlife and environment is vital and its independence as an adviser is essential to this. As set out in the 25-year environment plan, Natural England will continue to have a central role in protecting and enhancing our environment for future generations,”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/29/agency-protecting-english-environment-reaches-crisis-point

Community group sues council over secret contract

“A community group is taking Gloucestershire County Council to court over the award of a £600m incinerator contract. Community R4C, a non-profit mutual society which has had support from celebrities including Jeremy Irons, Jonathon Porritt, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Kevin McCloud, claims the contract was unlawfully awarded, resulting in a massive rise in costs to taxpayers and a breach of procurement law. They filed a lawsuit with the High Court on Friday.

Campaigners have been opposing the waste incinerator at Javelin Park for years, saying the project wasted taxpayers money, was bad for health and the environment and that there were cheaper and better alternatives. Requests to see the contract, the largest the county has ever entered into, were consistently refused until a tribunal forced its disclosure in 2017, by which time a revised contract had been signed. This was only released on 20th December 2018.

“It was a very difficult decision to take this course of action when so much taxpayer money has already been spent on legal battles”, says Patricia Watson, a waste consultant and volunteer director of the group. “The underhand behaviour of the council and contractor has led to a far higher price than anywhere else in the country for the lowest possible environmental benefit.”

Board member Sue Oppenheimer says: “The contract has increased by a staggering £150m making it 30% more expensive. By law, it should have been retendered. Instead Gloucestershire County Council has spent around half a million pounds keeping this information secret. With the support of the community, we had been working on a much cheaper waste processing plant and would have bid for the contract. Our plant would have increased recycling, reduced pollution and would have been a better deal for the environment and the taxpayer.”

Tom Jarman, another board member says: “There is a strict 30 days limit to bringing this sort of claim and it seems to us that the council timed the disclosure of the relevant information strategically, just before Christmas, so to make it almost impossible for anyone to bring legal action in time. Keeping a 30% increase in cost secret from the public and its own audit committee is not the way we expect a public authority to conduct itself.”

https://www.unitynews.co/people-of-gloucestershire-have-to-sue-their-own-council/

Workplace parking charges -will EDDC officers and councillors finally have to cave in

Just about every year, Ottery independent councillor Roger Giles – whose environmental credentials are strong – has petitioned for EDDC councillors and officers to introduce parking charges to encourage them to think more about the need to use their cars. Every year, the Conservative majority has voted him down.

Maybe this will change – though with rural public transport so poor, it seems likely that they may have to stump up the cost! Particularly when what is left of it often stops so early!

Buses from the new Honiton HQ to Sidmouth will end at 8 pm, to Axminster they will end at 6.10 pm and to Seaton at 3.40 pm (yes, that’s right 15.40!).

Owl’s guess – allowances and salaries will be raised to cover the extra cost.

“The AA says plans to charge drivers up to £1,000 a year to park at work could become a “poll tax on wheels”.

Under plans to cut congestion, reduce pollution and raise money for public transport, a workplace parking levy is being considered by at least 10 councils.

The charges would affect businesses with more than 10 parking spaces and the AA said the costs would be passed on to workers.

The levy has already been rolled out in Nottingham where four in 10 companies pass on the costs to staff.

Since it was introduced in 2012, the charge has raised £53.7m which has been used to improve Nottingham’s tram network.

Hounslow Council in west London is proposing to charge between £500 and £1,000 a year for every parking space and at least nine other councils are considering imposing the levy.

Other cash-strapped authorities are likely to consider the measure because of a shortage of funding for road improvements and public transport.”

https://news.sky.com/story/drivers-could-be-charged-up-to-1000-a-year-to-park-at-work-11611486

Rights of way – action needed

Ramblers Association:

“We have until January 2026 to save our historic rights of way.
Well over 140,000 miles of public paths criss-cross England and Wales. This network has evolved over centuries with many paths dating back to medieval times – or earlier! These paths link villages, hamlets, roads and towns – they describe how generations before us travelled to the pub, field or shops and reflect the changing patterns of human interaction with the landscape. To this day, millions of people across our towns, cities and countryside, use this fantastic network. However, miles and miles of our public paths are unrecorded and if they are not put on the map by 1 January 2026, they will be lost for ever.

Download our guide below and get started on the hunt for lost rights of way in your area (requires form fill-in)

https://e-activist.com/page/34392/data/1