Detailed food labelling will be critical if UK pig and poultry producers are to compete effectively against foreign imports in the future, says DEFRA minister Jeff Rooker.

Speaking to producers at the Pig and Poultry Fair at Stoneleigh today, Lord Rooker told UK suppliers they were leading Europe on quality and animal welfare, and were well ahead of beef and lamb farmers in being closer to the market.

But he said consumers needed more detailed information to make the right choices on provenance and price. “Consumers are entitled to discriminate based on the information they get.” he added.

Imports of cooked chicken into the UK – about 1800t a week – were of concern, said Lord Rooker. “All chicken used in our sandwiches probably started life the other side of the world, but it doesn’t say that on the packet, does it?”

The minister claimed US suppliers were hiding the defects in their breeding and slaughtering of chickens by pushing hard to export chlorinated chicken meat into the UK.

“I would not touch chlorinated chicken with a barge pole,” he said. “It needs to be labelled as chlorinated chicken – tell the public the truth. The Food Standards Agency may say it’s safe to eat as long as it’s properly labelled.”