Well there you have it. If Scotland remains a part of the UK, the NHS will not be safe. During the press conference on Tuesday after his meeting with Theresa May, Donald Trump claimed that a “phenomenal” trade deal could be negotiated between the USA and the UK after Brexit, and then went on to add that the NHS was on the table. Whatever right wing ideologue succeeds Theresa May will be bartering away the future of the NHS in return for chlorinated chicken.
This was the most important point to take away from Trump’s press conference. Well that and the fact that no one called him a liar even though his delusions reached an even greater height than the Trump Baby blimp that flew above the protests in London. Trump claimed that “thousands” had turned out to cheer him. This may possibly be because he took the massive papier maché effigy of him sitting on a toilet which blared out fart noises to be a demonstration of support. It’s an easy mistake to make.
Trump’s convoy drove past the protests. The toilet effigy and the Trump Baby blimp were clearly visible to anyone in the motorcade. But during the press conference Trump asserted that the protests were fake news and that London had really turned out to back him. In fact the small gaggle of pro-Trump people were sitting in a Wetherspoons nursing a pint and a chlorinated chicken flavour packet of crisps while the thousands of anti-Trump protesters passed by outside. Yet no one called out Trump for contradicting the evidence of their own, and his own, eyes.
But it’s the fact that we now have confirmation that the NHS is at threat that’s the most important development here. Do you trust Trade Secretary Liam Fox to protect the NHS in trade negotiations with Donald Trump? That would be the Liam Fox who today refused to rule out giving US private health corporations access to the NHS as a part of any post-Brexit trade deal. And it’s not just the NHS which is under threat, so are food standards and safety. Brexit is quite literally putting lives at risk.
In September last year a blueprint for a US-UK trade deal was published by the right wing Initiative for Free Trade, a thinktank headed by Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, together with input from other opaquely funded right wing groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. Boris Johnson and Liam Fox were guests at the launch of the Initiative for Free Trade. Liam Fox has also given speeches for the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. The controversial blueprint claims that opening up the NHS to foreign competition would be “beneficial”, and proposed to ditch the so-called cautionary principle which has governed EU regulation on food standards and safety.
Sustain, a thinktank campaigning for better food standards, estimates that if the UK adopted US style food standards, there would be an extra cost of £1billion annually to the NHS and the UK economy. Yesterday, Monday 3 June, an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme into standards in the US chicken industry found that American rates of campylobacter infection are 10 times higher than they are in the UK. Salmonella, the other leading bacterial cause of food poisoning, is also far more prevalent in the USA.
For more details see: https://www.sustainweb.org/news/feb18_US_foodpoisoning/
The US Center for Disease Control estimates that there are an average of between 380 to 450 deaths annually in the USA due to salmonella, as well as 23,000 hospitalisations, and 1.2 million cases of the infection. The CDC reckons that poor food hygiene is the source of 1 million of these infections. With the exception of a single death in 2018 linked to lamb and mutton, the UK has in recent years recorded no deaths at all due to salmonella. If the UK had the same rate of food poisoning as the USA, around 65 to 70 people would lose their lives annually due to salmonella infections, there would be around 3,850 hospitalisations, and 200,000 cases of salmonella annually. The current figure is around 8500 cases annually in England and Wales.
For rates of salmonella infection in England and Wales, see here https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/598401/Salmonella_2016_Data.pdf
The lower rate of salmonella and campylobacter infections in the UK is due to the EU’s far stricter food hygiene and processing regulations. This is an example of some of the EU “red tape” that the Tories want to get rid of. They’re more interested in protecting the profit margins of chicken processing plants than they are in protecting your health.
The problem with US food standards is that chlorine washing is not a good substitute for the more stringent food safety measures which in the EU are mandatory earlier in the processing chain. In the USA, these more stringent measures are not legal requirements. So for example in the EU there are restrictions on flock density and transportation times, restrictions which have an impact on producers’ profit margins. There are also strict regulations governing the processing plants, and guarantees of workers’ rights and health and safety. These restrictions have been shown to be successful in reducing the spread of salmonella and campylobacter bacteria infections as well as in creating a safer working environment for staff, but in the USA processers substitute bathing the chicken carcasses in a dilute chlorine solution. This process kills 90% of the bacteria present in the chicken, but it’s the other 10% that cause the problem.
American chicken is 20% cheaper than its British equivalent. It’s cheaper because food safety standards are less rigorous, and because workers in the processing plants have less protection. A US trade deal would see British markets flooded with cheaper American products which are less safe. That would encourage a drive downwards in standards amongst UK producers.
Brexit is putting our food at risk, our lives at risk, our NHS at risk, and our employment standards at risk. That’s why the Tories are pursuing it. They’re not seeking Brexit in order to strengthen the standards and regulations which ensure our safety, they’re doing it in order to get rid of those standards and regulations so that corporations can enjoy a greater profit. It’s ordinary working people who will pay the price.
We now have confirmation that the greatest threat to Scotland’s safety and security is to remain a part of the UK. As a part of the UK Scotland will have no say, no input, no control over whatever trade deal the Tories strike with Donald Trump’s America. Our NHS will be opened up to private American health companies, our food will be less safe. We’ll be sicker, and we’ll be at greater risk of workplace accidents precisely as the NHS is being stripped and privatised. The only way that Scotland can have any control over its own future is with independence. The Conservatives are determined to ensure that we’re silenced while they poison our food. If we stay under Westminster rule, Scotland will have as much say about its fate as a chlorinated chicken.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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