Treated chicken and beef should be part of any trade deal: US farmers’ chief

Detractors say that chicken treated in the US could either pose a health risk or undercut UK farmers
Detractors say that chicken treated in the US could either pose a health risk or undercut UK farmers

Chicken washed in chlorine and beef from hormone-injected cattle should be part of a trade deal with the US, the president of America’s National Farmers Union (NFU) has said.

Food produced in the US, which is regarded by some to be held to lower standards than Europe, is “perfectly safe”, according to Roger Johnson, who said there had been “fear-mongering” on the issue.

A post-Brexit transatlantic trade deal could open up the huge American market to British farmers, however it would more than likely require the same rights for US farmers to sell their products in the UK.

The UK market is currently bound by European Union food safety regulations, however these could cease to apply when Britain leaves the bloc.

Chicken and beef have become symbolic for opponents of such a deal, with detractors warning that US products could either pose health risks or undercut UK farmers because they are cheaper to produce.

As head of an organisation that represents around 200,000 US farms, Mr Johnson told the BBC that US rules were of a “different” standard, rather than a lower one.

“I think it is fair to say that the standards that we follow allow for more rapid scientific advancement, that a more cautionary approach (from the EU) means that scientific advances are going to happen more slowly,” he said.

“The trade negotiations need to figure out a way to allow both of these standards to be used and in a way that is honest and truthful – and let consumers choose.”

Mr Johnson said clear labelling would allow consumers to make informed decisions.

“There’s a lot of fear-mongering that happens around these kinds of things: ‘Oh my god, we don’t want to be eating chlorine, that’s a gas that kills people’,” he said.

“You know what – water is a liquid that drowns people; it doesn’t mean we don’t drink it.”

On April 10 Barclay Bell, the president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, said farmers are “very concerned about the possible threat of products such as hormone treated beef and chlorinated chicken coming onto our shores in the future”.

He had said that “the UK government should prioritise their efforts on ensuring that future trading partners meet UK food production standards, rather than trying to introduce more controls which will make the UK farming industry less competitive and open the door to cheap imports produced to lower standards”.

In January Labour MP Kerry McCarthy said there were “serious concerns” that a badly negotiated deal “could could trigger a race to the bottom in terms of standards and ability of our own farmers to compete”.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove told the BBC at the time that Britain will not “dilute our high environmental standards or our animal welfare standards in the pursuit of a trade deal”.