HORMONE-TREATED beef looks set to be a sore point in the imminent trade talks between Canada and the UK.

Much of the Johnson government's post-Brexit trade ambition is focussed on joining the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – however, this would take it into a trading bloc with, among others, Canada, where the use of hormone treatments to speed up livestock growth is commonplace.

At the start of this month, a memo leaked from a preliminary UK/Canada meeting suggested that Canadian officials had 'asked some probing questions' about the hormone-treated beef issue and indicated that a positive outcome for them would be important to their support of UK entry to the CPTPP.

While the UK government quickly reiterated that it would not be forced to lower food, animal welfare or environmental standards to secure trade deals, animal welfare campaigners and UK opposition parties alike are now raising a chorus of alarm that the matter was even on the table.

Martin Lines, chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, warned that 'the pressure to accept low-environmental and low-animal welfare standards' would increase as Britain spread its efforts to strike new trade deals around the world.

Mr Lines insisted that the UK could not deliver on its climate and environment commitments unless it stood firm against this kind of international pressure – and enshrined its domestic food and farming standards in law.

Shadow International Trade Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds suggested that the fact the issue was being discussed at all was evidence that the Conservative government was 'considering dropping animal welfare and food standards and allowing hormone-treated beef into UK markets'.

“The secretary of state recently stated that our standards are ‘non-negotiable'," said Mr Thomas-Symonds. "The government should be standing up for UK interests in the accession process to CPTPP.”

The SNP's agri-spokesperson, Deidre Brock MP, and Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Alyn Smith MP, have since written to Defra's George Eustice and Anne Marie Trevelyan asking them to confirm they will not give in to requests to end import controls for lower standard products in April's trade deal negotiations.

Ms Brock said: “Although the Tories refuse to admit it, their extreme Brexit is responsible for the extremely damaging loss of trade we've seen, and now they are racing ahead with a deal to join the CPTPP in the hope that it will make up for some of that damage.

“They risk making further bad decisions and concessions in trade negotiations that could see the ban on hormone treated beef scrapped, putting farmers’ livelihoods and consumers’ health at risk," she warned.

“We are already seeing our food standards and Scotland’s farming sector jeopardised since leaving the EU. It is of vital importance, to protect our farmers, food producers, and consumers, that no more ground is given on food standards in post-Brexit trade deals."

Trade negotiations outwith the European Union are exposing the UK to a different mindset regarding food safety – while the EU adheres to the 'precautionary' approach that regards technical interventions like growth hormones and genetic modification as unsafe until it can be firmly proved that they are not, the CPTPP nations and the USA take a 'hazard-based' approach that assumes such practices are safe until proven otherwise.