12 April 2002

World trade curbs threaten UK

By Simon Wragg

UK producers could be hit by fresh restrictions on world trade as the EU comes into conflict with other leading nations over a lack of progress being made in the traceability of food products such as genetically modified organisms, a leading peer has warned.

Lord Selbourne, chairman of the governments EU select committee for Agriculture, the Environment and Consumer Affairs, believes the EU will lock horns with countries such as America in future as it pursues its ideal of a wholly traceable food chain.

Speaking at this weeks Food Chain Conference at Harper Adams University College, Shropshire, Lord Selbourne suggested the identification of GM and GM-free soya was typical of the conflict the EU faces.

"The drive is to ensure EU consumers have maximum information, maximum traceability. But importers say that is increasingly unrealistic. EU proposals will put us in to conflict with the US, Australia and others. I think, inevitably, it will end up at the World Trade Organisation."

Although the UK has made strident progress in developing a culture of identity along the food chain and systems to improve food safety, some EU member states were already lagging behind, he suggested, leaving the door open for criticism.

The UK could also find itself at odds with other EU member states, warned Mac Johnston of the Royal Veterinary College, London. The governments resolve to improve food safety from producer level could necessitate the introduction of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles behind the farm gate.

"I know for a fact that within the European Commission there are some who say we must not talk about HACCP behind the farm gate as it could compromise some southern member states. I do not follow that view; the principles can be applied anywhere," he declared.

Some observers noted that such rhetoric was unlikely to please UK producers who, says the Curry Commission, are suffering financially and increasingly divorced from the urban public. &#42