Ministers should put into law a ban on any post-Brexit trade deal food imports from the US that are produced to lower standards – shadow environment secretary
GM foods are not mentioned in the article below as one of the sub-standard food types that will be imported into the UK as a result of a UK-US trade deal, but Trump and Boris Johnson have made it clear that allowing in GM foods from the US is a key demand from US trade negotiators.
US trade deal: Tory minister fails to confirm ban on import of chlorinated chicken
The Independent, 24 Feb 2020
* George Eustice says what American producers ‘use these days are lactic acid washes’ for poultry
The newly appointed environment secretary has failed to offer a clear commitment that the import of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef will be off the table in any trade deal with the US.
George Eustice, who was appointed in the recent reshuffle, said the government had “no plans” to change the ban on the two products but did not give a guarantee on the issue, which is expected to prove a crunch point in trade talks with Donald Trump’s administration.
His predecessor Theresa Villiers gave a firm commitment that British markets would not be flooded with chlorine washed chicken, which is legal in the US.
Mr Eustice did not explicitly say he would keep her pledge, instead saying there was room for a "sensible discussion" about use of lactic acid on poultry rather than chlorine, which he said was more commonly used among American farmers.
It comes amid tensions between Washington and London over Boris Johnson’s decision to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei a role in the building of the UK’s 5G infrastructure – despite protests from Mr Trump.
Asked to make a commitment, Mr Eustice told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “The truth is that it’s already illegal in this country to sell chlorine-washed chicken or indeed hormone-fed beef. That’s in our legislation.
“But the important thing would I say is we believe very passionately in this country about our food standards, our animal welfare standards.
“We have worked very hard over the last 20 years to build quite a sophisticated market where there’s a lot of consumer confidence in the provenance of our food and how it was produced, and the safety of our food.
“And we’re absolutely clear in the government that we will not take risks – either with our food standards, and when it comes to animal welfare, we will be projecting our views on animal welfare on the international stage.
“It’s where the UK that’s been a world leader in animal welfare, particularly farmed animal welfare, and we want to bring the rest of the world along with us.”
Asked again if chlorinated chicken was a red line, the Tory minister said: “Well, I’m not quite sure why the US would make such demands because actually chlorine washes on the chicken are very outdated technology and it’s not really used by the US anymore anyway.
“What they tend to use these days are lactic acid washes.”
Mr Eustice went on: “What I’m saying is, we won’t make any moves on our standards, we’ve got a clear position in this country that it is illegal to sell chlorine-washed chicken, illegal to sell beef treated with hormones.
“We have no plans to change those things but equally as I would say, it’s not the case that the US currently use chlorine-washed chicken anyway.”
He later told the BBC that there was space for a “sensible discussion” on the use of lactic acid on chicken, which is already used on beef carcasses in the UK.
Ministers’ previous refusal to rule out banning chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef had fuelled fears about food standards being lowered after Brexit.
Luke Pollard, shadow environment secretary, said: “British farmers pride themselves on high levels of animal welfare and environmental protections. So why won’t ministers put into law a ban on any post-Brexit trade deal food imports from the US that are produced to lower welfare and environmental standards?
“Chlorinated chicken being sold in Britain is a genuine risk, unless this backdoor to lower-standard US goods imports is closed and a ban is put into law.
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat food and rural affairs spokesperson, said the Tories were "rolling back on their promises" out of desperation for a trade deal with Mr Trump.
He added: "They are wilfully threatening British consumers and farmers.”
Sue Davies, head of consumer protection and food policy at Which?, said: “It is astonishing that instead of improved food safety and health, chemical washing techniques for chicken and hormone-treated beef are still being left on the negotiating table when the debate has to be firmly focused on the food standards consumers want.
“We know consumers value the UK’s high food standards, so the government must legislate to ensure current high principles are preserved and reinforced in future trade deals – not jeopardised by imports produced to a lower standard.”
A government spokesperson said: “We have repeatedly been clear that we will uphold our high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards outside the EU.
“The government will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure our future trade deals live up to the values of farmers and consumers across the UK.”
Meanwhile, Mr Eustice also defended the prime minister’s failure to visit flood-stricken areas in recent days, saying: “It’s not true that the prime minister’s not been engaged in this.
“From the very moment he appointed me he’s been engaged. We stood up a national flood response centre and there have been daily conference calls that I’ve led.
“And in a cabinet government it’s not a one-man show. It’s right that on certain operational things such as this that the prime minister will ask one of his cabinet members to lead, I can’t see anything wrong with that.”