UK will not accept diminution of food standards, PM says
Boris Johnson has said the UK would not accept ‘diminution of standards’ on food and animal welfare in trade talks with the US.
The prime minister made the comments on Monday (3 February) as he set out his goals for trade after Brexit.
While the UK would not accept lower standards, he criticised ‘America bashers’ for taking a ‘hysterical’ attitude to US food production.
UK farming industry groups fear lower quality food imports would force farmers to drop their standards in order to compete.
The NFU has warned that farmers in the United States could ‘outcompete‘ British farmers after Brexit.
But Mr Johnson said the UK would be ‘governed by science, not mumbo-jumbo’ when deciding what food imports are safe for consumption in trade negotiations.
“I totally understand the concerns about chlorinated chicken, because it’s not a hygiene issue, it’s an animal welfare issue,” he said during his speech at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.
“And what we will do is use our negotiations and persuade our partners, if they want to trade freely with us, then obviously they will have to accept our approach to animal welfare.
“But there are other issues where I think that I’ve heard a certain amount of hysterical… there is a sort of thing about as if American food was somehow inferior.”
Mr Johnson said people in the United States ‘don’t complain’ about the quality of the food offered, and urged public discourse to leave ‘paranoia out of the argument’.
“I look at the Americans, they look pretty well nourished to me. And I don’t hear any of these critics of American food coming back from the United States and complaining,” he said.
The Labour Party have called for food standard protections to be included in the Agriculture Bill, warning that a failure to do so would be bad for the British public.
However, this amendment was defeated last night (3 February), and the Bill will now go through to the committee stage.
Despite this, shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said Labour ‘won’t accept’ chlorinated chicken on UK shelves.
The Plymouth Sutton and Devonport MP said: “Promises that ministers have made to maintain standards aren’t worth anything until they are written into law, and unless they do so we must surely conclude that they intend to break these promises during trade talks with the US.”
“We won’t accept chlorinated chicken in our supermarkets or Boris Johnson selling out our animal welfare, food and environmental protections in a bid for a trade deal with Donald Trump.”
It follows recent comments by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said chlorinated chicken must be included in UK and US trade talks.
While he admitted the issue would be ‘real contentious’, farmers in the United States would also insist on the product’s inclusion.
Speaking to Iain Dale’s programme on LBC on 30 January, Mr Pompeo said: “Our ask will be as it has been in the other negotiations, we need to be open and honest about competitiveness.
“We need to make sure we don’t use food safety as a ruse to try and protect a particular industry.”