Defra minister rules out US imports of chlorinated chicken

The UK will adopt all European food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards on leaving the bloc, Defra minister Lord Gardiner has stated.

During a Lords debate on Wednesday (4 September), Lord Gardiner was asked by Lord Carrington how the UK government planned to ensure that food imports after Brexit meet the same standards as those required of British farmers.

“This country has high food safety standards and these will continue,” the Defra minister replied.

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“We will remain global leaders in environmental protection and animal welfare standards, maintaining our high-quality produce for British consumers.

“The [European Union] Withdrawal Act will transfer on to the UK statute book all EU food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards. Our current high standards, including import requirements, will apply when we leave.”

Lord Carrington pointed out that the UK government has consistently said that it will not allow our food standards “to be undermined by future trade deals, such as that proposed with the US”.

He then asked Lord Gardiner how the UK government would keep out goods produced to lower standards in the event of a no-deal Brexit, especially as this would almost certainly breach our trade obligations under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

Lord Gardiner said: “WTO rules allow WTO members to adopt and maintain trade-restrictive measures on specified public policy grounds, including the protection of human, animal and plant life and health, public morals and conservation.”

Specifically, when asked about a possible UK-US trade deal post-Brexit, Lord Gardiner stressed that “the government has made it clear all existing health and safety restrictions on hormone treatment, antibiotics and chlorinated chicken will remain in place”.

Defra comments welcomed

Ed Barker, policy advisor at the National Pig Association (NPA), said the pig industry would welcome these Defra comments.

For example, it would confirm that a non-EU pork exporter to the UK would have to adhere to EU rules on demonstrating “ractopamine-free” pork exports. Ractopamine is a beta-agonist, which promotes leanness in animals raised for meat and is theoretically legal to use in the US.

But he added: “[This] by no means protects the UK pig industry, which would also be facing a near total halt to EU exports in the event of a no deal.”

Meanwhile, Mr Barker said speculation was circulating on Twitter that the UK government is planning to review its no-deal tariffs proposals on agricultural goods, with a view to raising them as a way of exerting leverage on the EU.