Ulster Unionist Leader Robin Swann MLA has warned that squabbling within Theresa May’s Cabinet could actually end up threatening the long-term sustainability of farming across the United Kingdom.
Mr Swann’s concerns were raised following comments by Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox relating to a deal between the USA and UK.
Mr Swann said: “Earlier this week Liam Fox arrogantly claimed that lowering UK food standards to allow the import of chlorinated chicken from the US was an insignificant detail. He was wrong.
“As far as I am concerned treating chickens with chlorine perfectly sums up the difference in approaches to food safety between the US and the UK. Whilst our farmers have become accomplished at eliminating bacteria from every stage in the chain, the Americans instead appear to tolerate dirty meat until the very end, when it then bleaches everything in the chlorine wash. It might cost a few pence more but I know which chicken I’d rather eat.
“The same goes for not wanting American hormone treated beef, or pork laced with Ractopamine.
“The UK currently has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world, and only a fool would see this not as a major selling point as we seek out new markets.
“Liam Fox’s comments were ill-informed and did reveal a certain level of naivety, but more worrying was how the Conservative Party handled what quickly spiralled into an embarrassing gaffe by one of the UK’s most senior members of the Cabinet.
“Michael Gove, the current DEFRA Secretary quickly came out and rubbished Fox’s comments. Many independent observers however believe he was as much driven by the internal Conservative Party splits that are now boiling out into the public.
“Instead of Cabinet Secretaries undermining one another, rarely before has it ever been so important for the UK to have a unified Government. No one gains from having senior politicians publicly squabbling, not least when one of them is responsible for ensuring the continued prosperity of the local economy when we do eventually leave the European Union.
“Agriculture potentially has the most to lose from a bungled Brexit deal and inadequate new trade arrangements. As this week’s major report from the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Committee said – ‘the greatest threat to farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit would come from UK farmers competing against cheap, imported food from countries that produce to lower standards than the UK.’
“Northern Ireland is one of Europe’s leading poultry producers and as such tens of thousands of local jobs in areas such as Ballymena, Dungannon and Craigavon would all be at risk if the market were to be flooded with cheaper, inferior poultry meat. That simply can’t be allowed to happen.”
Mr Swann added: “It’s time that the Conservative Party set its individual egos aside and realised that this in an incredibly important period for the long-term sustainability of British agriculture.”