A reasonably basic question to ask of someone who says “Britain this” or “Britain that” is, well, how do you know? Our answer, the economic answer, is that revealed preferences are much more important than expressed ones. It’s what people actually do that reveals their beliefs, morals, attitudes and desires, not what they say they do.
Which brings us to this:
The notorious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was already foundering on the rocks of agriculture when Donald Trump canned the talks in 2017.
The difference between the two sides centres on safety. US regulators believe the only test of food is whether it is safe or not. Beyond this, the state abdicates responsibility. If the consumer wants livestock to be treated decently, they can choose to pay the producer more.
But the Tory MP George Eustice said earlier this year that “a modern trade deal is not simply about commerce, it is also about values”. His objection to US food is not just about chlorine-washed chicken and beef injected with hormones, bad though that is. He couldn’t support the importing of animals treated as meat to be thrown around, in life and in death, when Britain considers them sentient beings to be treated with some respect.
How do we know what Britain considers? After all, we’ve not been in charge of our own agricultural system for half a century now. Policy is made elsewhere, not even subject to the expressed preferences of national elections.
The only answer possible to finding out what Britain actually does consider it to offer the choice and then see what happens. If Britons reject factory farmed and chlorine washed chicken then so be it. If hormone pumped beef is considered not worth the money saving then we’re all fine with that. Because the only effective manner of working out what it is that people actually do believe or consider - in that balance of all the things that must be considered - is to watch what they do when they’ve that choice in the market.
Which is, of course, why the vituperation about such American farming habits. Chicken must not be washed in Europe as every bagged salad is washed in Europe not because there’s something wrong with the technique. It’s because those who would impose the system upon us aren’t sure that we’d agree if we did have that choice.
That is, the only reason to ban the people’s choice is because you think the people’s choice will be what you wish to ban. If nobody actually would do or want it there’d be no need for the ban, would there?