Alarmism over products like chlorinated chicken must end, says the chairman of the government’s Trade and Agriculture Commission.
The government has set up the commission to help ensure British farmers are not undermined by food imports produced using methods that are illegal in the UK.
Farm leaders have long warned that products such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef could be allowed into the country following a future deal with the US.
Writing in an article for The Telegraph, commission chairman Tim Smith said a “clear-eyed perspective” is needed on what works for consumers when it comes to trade deals.
‘Sensible and level-headed’
Government policy on trade should be debated in a sensible and level-headed way – and informed by evidence and expert opinion, he said.
“The alarmism recently around issues like imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef – both of which are banned in the UK – do neither the industry nor the public any favours.”
Mr Smith did not explicitly rule out the possibility that either product could be imported in the UK as part of a trade deal with the US.
But he pledged to help ensure UK farmers do not face unfair competition and that their high animal welfare and production standards are not undermined.
NFU president Minette Batters said ensuring UK standards are not undermined is one part of a much broader challenge faced by farmers.
‘Prepared to walk away’
The UK’s trade policy must deliver a prosperous and sustainable future for growers and livestock producers – and smooth the way for an increase in UK food exports, said Mrs Batters.
And she warned: “If the deal on the table means unfair competition for UK farmers in our home market, then our negotiators must be prepared to walk away.
“We must not agree a trade deal just for the sake of agreeing a trade deal, and the UK’s high standards must not become a bargaining chip.
“Regardless of the commission’s work, we will continue to scrutinise all and any negotiations over the months and years ahead to get the best outcome for British farmers and consumers alike.”
Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn voiced concern that the commission’s role would be advisory only.
Bigger function needed
“This group needs to have a bigger function than simply providing advice,” he said.
“The government must commit to act on the commission’s recommendations, rather than following the classic Whitehall tradition of allowing reports from such bodies to gather dust.”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union said the commission is a vital development in safeguarding the UK’s high environmental, animal welfare and food production standards.
The UK’s high-production standards must not be undermined if farming is to flourish, said UFU president Ivor Ferguson.