British farmers fear Boris Johnson has 'terrifying' plans to abandon UK food standards in order to win a Brexit trade deal with Trump

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  • The head of Britain's farmers fears the UK government has "pretty terrifying" plans to ditch UK food standards in order to win a Brexit trade deal with Trump.
  • The UK environment Secretary said on Wednesday that any bid to allow currently banned US products such as chlorine and acid-washed chickens would be up for discussion.
  • Boris Johnson has promised that food standards will not be lowered after EU rules expire at the end of 2020.
  • However, he has resisted all attempts to put this promise into law.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Boris Johnson's refusal to rule out lifting the UK ban on chlorinated and acid-washed chicken in order to win a post-Brexit trade deal with Trump is "pretty terrifying" according to the head of Britain's farmers.

The UK Environment Secretary George Eustice told the National Farmer's Union conference on Wednesday that lifting the ban would be up for discussion as part of talks, although he insisted that standards would not be allowed to fall.

Eustice, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, insisted that the UK government would not accept lower food standards after Brexit, telling Batters: "You have got those assurances - they're in the manifesto."

"I didn't say there was room for compromise, I said there was room for discussion," Eustice said.

However, NFU President Minette Batters said the industry wanted more concrete assurances, and pointed to the government's refusal to add legal safeguards for British food standards in a key piece of legislation called the Agriculture Bill.

Eustice confirmed that Johnson's government would not accept the amendment if, as expected, it is added to the legislation by peers in the House of Lords, telling Batters: "I can't give you any such assurance."

There is growing concern in the UK - particularly among farmers - that Johnson's government is preparing to compromise on food standards in order to strike a free trade deal with the Donald Trump administration.

Eustice at the weekend refused to explicitly rule out chlorinated chicken being imported from the US and said the UK government was prepared to have a "sensible" discussion on meat imports washed in lactic-acid.

Refusal to rule out chlorinated chicken is 'pretty terrifying'

NFU Minette Batters

Batters on Monday set out the NFU's strong opposition to any meat imports washed in chemicals, and on Tuesday told Eustice that the UK government's refusal to commit to upholding food standards in law was "pretty terrifying."

"This feels like the battleground of Brexit. We've had successive warm words in this area but no actual commitment," Batters told Eustice.

"Your predecessor talked, even on the Today programme this week, about the need to maintain those standards on imports. We talk about our standards but it's about those of imports that come into our country.

"When you were on the backbenches for a short period, you put down a whole series of technical amendments. You wrote an article in The Guardian talking about having trade negotiations whereby food had to be produced to those same standards.

"You went as far as saying no person shall sell an animal that has been watched in anything other than water. And here we are still having to have the discussion across the government having left the EU. It feels pretty terrifying to me."

Eustice sought to reassure the conference that Johnson's government would stick to previous verbal promises on food standards.

"The amendments I put down which you mentioned was a probing amendment really and literally just a copy of what was already in regulations. It's already unlawful to see chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef," he said.

However, Batters was not convinced, telling the minister: "There just seems to be on this issue, a total lack of agreement in government as to what the future means for food standards.

"My worry is we are talking a lot about raising the bar for farmers here, and taking them higher up the ladder on legislation and welfare, when we have no assurance at all on the standard of food imports and that does one thing: that puts these guys out of business."

She said that by refusing to accept the food standards amendment, the government was indicating that it was prepared to accept lower food standards in trade negotiations with the US and other countries.

"This will test the moral compass of government and that I think after what you've said today, still stands. That amendment has to stay in and if it is taken out, we will know the road that we are on," Batters said.

The UK government is set to publish its negotiating mandate for talks with the EU on Thursday before publishing its mandate for talks with the US administration next week.

The US trade representative's objectives for negotiations, published last year, said the UK should "remove expeditiously unwarranted barriers that block the export of US food and agricultural products."

It added that it sought to remove "unjustified trade restrictions" enforced in the UK as a result of its recently expired EU membership and "eliminate practices that unfairly decrease US market access opportunities."

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