UK’s Beef Hormone Ban Should Continue, Professors Say

British consumers are warned their government may alter food safety regulations after Brexit, allowing U.S. and Canadian beef treated with hormones to enter the food supply. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

British food policy experts are warning consumers a possible fallout from Brexit is that hormone-treated beef may be allowed to enter England’s food supply. A report from professors at the University of Sussex and City, University of London, cautions British consumers that lifting a decades-long ban on beef raised with hormones would represent an unnecessary and unacceptable public health risk.

Erik Millstone, Emeritus Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, and Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City, University of London, co-authored the report, “Hormone-treated beef: Should Britain accept it after Brexit?”, which questions the safety of hormones in beef production.

According to Millstone and Lang, at least one hormone routinely used in U.S. beef production has been judged by the EU as a cancer risk, and they claim the available evidence on the five other hormones used in the U.S. is insufficient to judge their safety.

“There is a triple risk here: to health, to British beef farmers’ livelihoods, and to the UK’s ability to determine its own food safety standards,” Lang said. Hormone use is a test case for whether the UK seeks a more sustainable food supply. Hormone use would be a stupid step towards intensive beef feeding lots.”

Contrary to the two British professor’s claims, beef produced with hormones has long been deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and even the World Trade Organization.

The European Union’s ban went into effect in 1989, and under WTO rules, such bans are permitted if scientific evidence shows the ban is for health and safety reasons. Canada and the U.S. challenged the ban in the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, which ruled against the EU in 1997.

Yet, the British academics adamantly urge their government to keep the ban in place. They suggest, for instance, that if the UK’s food standards were weakened in exchange for lower tariffs on steel, one effect will be that hormone-treated beef would enter the food supply. They also warn that such meat will not be labelled as such, keeping consumers “in the dark.”

The British academics’ report recommends that:

  • After Brexit, the UK Government should ensure either that food standards remain fully aligned with EU standards, or that we adopt higher standards. Food standards should not be weakened, especially not sacrificed to facilitate trade in undesirable and/or unsafe products.
  • The UK consumer movement should strongly resist moves to weaken current levels of consumer protection as part of future trade deals.
  • UK food and farming industries should publicly commit themselves to producing and selling only beef from cattle never treated with synthetic hormones.
  • The retail industry (supermarket chains, independent stores and butchers) should advise their members, customers and MPs to tell the UK Government that they will not sell synthetic hormone-reared beef.
  • The UK Government should explicitly acknowledge that any weakening of UK food standards, such as permitting the sale of hormone-reared beef, will result in barriers to UK food companies wishing to export their products to the EU’s Single Market.
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