Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Chicken Dinner

Woody Johnson, the United States' ambassador to the United Kingdom told the BBC that post Brexit, that the United Kingdom should change their food-safety standards to allow in chicken and beef grown in the United States. Currently, the European Union does not allow it, because producers use processes that are not allowed there.

In the grand tradition of the Trump Administration, Ambassador Johnson told the BBC that the United States has the lowest levels of food poisoning, a claim that the BBC was quickly able to debunk. "So the US has four times as many confirmed cases of campylobacter per thousand people as the UK - and twenty times as many cases of salmonella," they reported. And when told that farming organizations in the United Kingdom believed that animal welfare and environmental standards in the United States were lower than those in Europe (one wonders how they could have possibly come to that conclusion...), Ambassador Johnson suggested that some sort of anti-Americanism in the European Union was at work.

Now, I'm not a particularly adept salesperson; I find that I have to really enthusiastic about a product or service to have any chance of selling it to someone else. But it seems to me that when you have a situation in which people have doubts about the product they're being asked to purchase, arguably false statements and conspiracy theorizing are unlikely to land a sale.

It's likely easy to understand what American agricultural businesses aren't keen on the Europeans' food safety rules. My personal bet would be on the idea that food production in the United Kingdom and European Union uses food safety procedures that would be expensive to implement nation-wide, and even if some producers were using them, a certification process would also be expensive.

But one of the things about trade is that it's the exchange of things that both sides want or need. Ambassador Johnson appears to be banking on the idea that British shoppers will set aside whatever concerns they may have if lower-priced American meats show up in their grocery stores. And he is likely right about that to a certain extent - there will always be people who are willing to take on a certain level of risk for the chance to eat better or otherwise improve their material standards. And it's not like the general public in the United States has been up in arms over the approximately four per thousand people who come down with campylobacter or salmonella-based food poisoning in a given year. (Although salmonella warnings in produce seem to be happening with somewhat greater frequency.) So, dodgy statistics or none, the overall claim that meats created in the United States are safe is a reasonable one.

Still, if you want someone to buy something that they don't need to buy, it must be on their terms. I suspect that the United States would be better off acknowledging that.

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