Much has been written about the potential effects on food standards of a trade deal with the United States and there can be few who haven’t occasionally been laid low after eating something that disagreed with them, so this is something that should be taken seriously.
My experience suggests that Americans are demanding consumers and coupled with their litigious society means that potentially problematic standards are surprising – but that’s a puzzle for another day.
Joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), assuming the Biden administration rejoins, could facilitate such a deal and Lord Hannan has outlined how it’s based on mutual recognition rather than harmonisation.
There are fundamentally two types of standard: the “how” (harmonisation) and the “what” (mutual recognition). Think of a journey, the former defines the route and the method of transport, the latter just the destination. Although it can sometimes be difficult to define exactly what has to be achieved it’s by far the best method as it encourages innovation by lowering the barriers to market entry.
Sometimes the method needs to be prescribed and banning the export of live animals is an excellent example. It has no effect on the meat but, as a compassionate nation, should be welcomed.
It’s worth asking what might seem like an obvious question, but has a somewhat surprising answer, who decides what we eat?
I concluded that it’s actually the supermarkets and other food retailers. We choose the baked beans, etc from two or three options, but the shopkeeper has decided what’s on their shelves, it’s not a three card trick but the die is definitely loaded!
Millions of us have travelled abroad and even somewhere as close as France has an enormous range of delicacies, much of which is unavailable here.
In some instances there are cultural issues, a French fizzy fruit drink called Pschitt would have difficulties overcoming the ridicule!
There are two main factors that determine what the supermarkets stock and the first is demand. Every supermarket has a wide range of produce, both homegrown and imported, but only those that sell survive.
The other factor comes from realising that supermarkets have much in common with automotive, and other, manufacturers.
Modern factories are designed to operate in one direction, the constituent parts go in at one end and the finished product comes out the other.
Profits come from a large number of sales with a modest margin on each, but every one that comes back more than wipes out the profit it contributed. When something is returned the problem has to be investigated and if systemic things like product recalls organised.
The modern motor car is vastly different from those of only a few decades ago, full of high technology and advanced electronics, lots of things to go wrong, but the manufacturers offer warranties which can be three years, or until the car has been driven for 60,000 miles – whichever comes first.
In addition to the potential reputational damage in the social media era, it’s easy to see how costs can quickly spiral out of control, which is why it’s essential to ensure that only good products are shipped.
This requires a constructive and cooperative relationship with suppliers, state of the art facilities with first rate management, and well trained and motivated staff.
Supermarkets are organised the same way, products go in at the rear and the customer pushes them out of the front door in a trolley. They don’t make much on a tin of beans but they sell vast quantities and the issue for Tesco is exactly the same as for Toyota, returns quickly eat into the profits.
Many lefties perpetrate the view that capitalism is about turning out any old rubbish as cheaply as possible, then taking the money and running. Well, if you buy from a fly-by-night operator at a market or car boot sale you’re likely to find that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is!
In the 21st century it’s very easy to see how markets and competition drive up standards for the benefit of all. A tin of beans returned because it contained something unexpected or customers with food poisoning is as troublesome to Tesco as a car failing within warranty is to Toyota, they’ll treat it the same, and if a supplier or subcontractor doesn’t get their act together they’re replaced.
The basic mantra is that products that don’t come back mean customers that do, and this can be seen in many areas.
Irrespective of what may, or may not, be in a trade deal I have great difficulty contemplating the supermarkets knowingly putting anything potentially hazardous on their shelves, they have nothing to gain and everything to lose.