Farming chief slams ‘insane’ idea of importing acid-washed chicken after Brexit

Brexit trade deals allowing the import of food which would be illegal to produce in the UK would be "morally bankrupt" and "the work of the insane", a farming chief has warned.

It comes after Environment Secretary George Eustice refused to rule out allowing chlorine-washed or similarly treated chicken into the UK.

The EU allowed lactic acid washes on beef carcasses as a decontaminant in 2013 and was under pressure to allow it on chicken carcasses too.

But campaigners fear that using acid or chlorine washes to get rid of germs will allow farmers to descend to a lower standard of hygiene.

National Farmers' Union president Minette Batters said the challenges of climate change, tackling wildlife declines and ensuring animal welfare would not be met by a model that "ignores the hidden cost" of how food is produced.

She urged the Government to insist that countries who want to trade with the UK do so "on our terms" when it comes to food standards.

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"To sign up to a trade deal which results in opening our ports, shelves and fridges to food which would be illegal to produce here would not only be morally bankrupt, it would be the work of the insane," Ms Batters said.

At the NFU's annual conference in Birmingham on Tuesday, she reiterated a warning that imported food should not be allowed to undercut the standards UK farmers have to meet on animal welfare, food safety and the environment.

Producers in other parts of the world wash livestock in chlorine or other chemicals, use antibiotics to promote growth, are allowed to use battery cages for egg-laying hens and do not need vets' prescriptions for drugs, she said.

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Ms Batters called for rules in the Agriculture Bill to ensure that food that would be illegal to produce here will not be imported, and for a commission to oversee trade regulations regarding food and agriculture.

She said it was an issue that would "test the moral compass of some in Government".

"If you raise the bar at home but refuse to legislate on imports then I can only wonder, was the motive ever really about improving global standards in welfare or the environment after all.

"This isn't just about chlorinated chicken. This is about a wider principle.

"We must not tie the hands of British farmers to the highest rung of the standards ladder while waving through food imports which may not even reach the bottom rung."

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