Farming Minister George Eustice appeared to concede chlorinated chicken could appear on British shelves after Brexit during a discussion with Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee chair Neil Parish last week.
Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom has previously pledged to maintain British standards when new trade deals are struck, but Mr Eustice seemed to soften this position when pressed by Mr Parish on how the Government could stop British standards being driven down if UK consumers decided they wanted cheaper chicken which was considered safe to eat.
The Minister said: “First and foremost, we need to conclude a trade deal with the EU. There will then be a discussion if we decided to open discussions with the US. We would have to give consideration to things such as consumer acceptability of certain practices.
“In the UK in the last 20 years we have put more emphasis on food provenance, greater emphasis on animal welfare and food standards and trying to add value through regional marketing and niche marketing. The US has tended to rely much more on lower cost of production, so we have been on a slightly different journey. We would have to weigh up consumer acceptability.”
Mr Eustice also went on to acknowledge World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules were ‘resistant to recognising animal welfare’ and said the UK could not change things overnight, but cited the banning of trade in seal furs as an example of ethics being recognised as a legitimate public good by the WTO.
Mr Parish, who worked as a member of the European Parliament for 10 years, responded by saying he did not think the Government would be able to stop the entry of chlorinated chicken under existing trade rules and said the Minister had ‘largely answered his question’ by admitting consumer resistance would be the deciding factor.
A Defra spokesperson told Farmers Guardian: “Maintaining safety and public confidence in the food we eat is of the highest priority and any future trade deal must work for UK farmers, businesses and consumers.
“Any new products wishing to enter the UK market must comply with our rigorous legislation and standards – we will not compromise on animal welfare and food safety.”