What is the difference? – Which? New

The use of antibiotics, animal welfare practices and pesticides are just some of the main differences between our farming systems and food standards in the UK and those across the pond.

With the ongoing trade negotiations between the UK and the US, we believe it is important to ensure that there is no risk of abandoning our food standards.

Read on to see how our farming and welfare practices stack up.

Use of antibiotics in agriculture

Globally, about 73% of all antibiotic use is in livestock, and antibiotics are still routinely prescribed in intensive livestock systems to prevent and control disease in animals.

In the UK, the use of antibiotics on farms has declined by 50% in recent years and we now have much lower use than in other countries including the EU and the US.

The use of antibiotics in animal husbandry in the United States is much higher; in total, the United States uses more than five times more antibiotics per animal than the United Kingdom.

The bar graph below shows how the use of antibiotics in specific species varies between the UK and the US.

Antibiotic use: UK vs US

It has been illegal to use antibiotics as growth promoters in animals in the UK since 2006, but only since 2017 in the US.

While the use of antibiotics in the United States fell by 30% in 2017, it has increased again and American consumer groups fear that the same antibiotics are being used under the guise of disease prevention.

There are also cases where the United States is treating plant diseases with antibiotics. In 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency allowed Florida citrus growers to spray antibiotics on their trees to delay the spread of citrus greening, a bacterial infection.

The journal Nature estimated that producers could have used up to 440,000 kg of antibiotics during the year.

Antibiotics cannot be used on plant crops in the UK.

Animal welfare and meat treatments

In addition to the use of antibiotics, there are other major differences between meat production in the UK and the US.

In the United States, chickens can be washed chemically, for example using chlorine, at the end of the processing process.

Chemical washing of chicken is not permitted in the UK and there are concerns that chlorine and other washing products may be used to rectify problems caused by poor hygiene on farms and slaughterhouses.

As chemical detergents are classified as “processing aids”, rather than as ingredients, they do not have to be declared on the packaging.

We are concerned that if, as part of a trade deal between the US and UK, the UK allows the import of chlorine washed chicken, UK consumers will not necessarily know whether the chicken that they buy was chemically washed or not.

One who? A survey of 2,708 adults in June 2020 showed consumers don’t think labeling is the answer – around 60% of people said chlorine-washed chicken shouldn’t be on sale in the UK .

Other practices banned in the UK but permitted in the US are the use of ractopamine (a feed additive used to promote growth) in pig farming and growth hormones in beef cattle.

Ractopamine increases the rate of weight gain in pigs and improves leanness when they are finished.

In the United States, growth hormones are used in beef cattle, where cattle are often raised in “feedlots” where thousands of people can be kept in pens and on an intensive diet that encourages growth. weight gain.

In the same survey, 80% said they would be uncomfortable eating beef or pork treated with hormones and treated with growth promoters.

The UK has extensive farm animal legislation that is species specific. Unlike the United States, it protects the welfare of animals while they are on the farm, as well as during transport and slaughter.


The United States currently uses 72 pesticides that are not approved for use in the United Kingdom.

These include known carcinogens, possible endocrine disruptors, and those that harm children’s development and reproductive systems.

Conversely, there are two pesticides approved for use in the UK and the EU, but not in the US.

Permitted pesticide residues also differ; American grapes can contain up to 1000 times the level allowed in the UK. And American apples up to 400 times more.

Food standards

It is to be feared that the UK’s high food standards could be at risk when negotiating trade deals with countries like the United States resulting in the importation of food produced to lower standards into the United Kingdom.

When asked, 95% of those polled in our survey told us they would be concerned if this happened.

The government said food standards rules would be maintained through EU legislation retained through the EU Withdrawal Act.

However, we want to see this commitment to ensuring that imported food meets UK standards proactively, through the Farm or Trade Bill.

Trade deals offer the possibility of a wider choice of food and other products at potentially lower prices, and this should be welcomed, but not at the expense of our food standards and consumer confidence.

Make your voice heard: sign our petition to save food standards now

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