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Brexit: Environment Secretary refuses to rule out importing chlorinated chicken from US
23 February 2020, 17:17 | Updated: 23 February 2020, 17:21
Environment Secretary George Eustice has refused to rule out importing chlorinated chicken from the US in a post-Brexit trade deal.
Mr Eustice also suggested hormone-treated beef could be imported from America amid animal welfare and environmental fears.
His predecessor Theresa Villiers previously insisted the controversial meats would not be on the table in a post-Brexit trade deal.
However, the current environment secretary would not rule out the possibility when quizzed three times on the subject, despite saying there were "no plans" to change the current law.
He told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday that the government would not "take risks" on standards of welfare, as it prepares to publish its negotiating position for a free trade deal with Washington in the coming two weeks.
Mr Eustice said "lactic acid washes" are now more commonly used in the US than chlorine, however fears over animal welfare will likely remain due to the treatment the animals endure.
"What I'm saying is we won't make any moves on our standards, we've got a clear position in this country that it is illegal to sell chlorine-washed chicken, illegal to sell beef treated with hormones, we have no plans to change those things," he added.
Ms Villiers, speaking before a cabinet reshuffle in January, stated that EU laws banning the controversial foodstuffs would be implemented in the UK.
"There are legal barriers to their import and those are going to stay in place," she said.
Labour's shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard called for the Tories to introduce a ban on trade deals that would lower welfare and environmental standards.
"Chlorinated chicken being sold in Britain is a genuine risk, unless this backdoor to lower standard US goods imports is closed and a ban is put into law," he said.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats' food and rural affairs spokesman, accused the Conservatives of having backed down on their commitment.
"Farming communities up and down the country are rightly concerned about being undercut by low-standard imports from the US," he said.
"With the Tories' desperation for a trade deal with Donald Trump, it would appear they are rolling back on their promises. They are wilfully threatening British consumers and farmers."
Elsewhere, George Eustice defended Boris Johnson's and Priti Patel's new immigration system, after businesses raised fears of a shortage of workers.
The government plans to cut the number of low-skilled people entering the UK, but businesses have said it will choke off their supply of staff.
Mr Eustice, who used to run a strawberry farm, stressed a seasonal agricultural workers scheme will be an "important part of immigration policy in the future".
He said there would be an initial quadrupling of the size of the scheme to 10,000 this year, but this still falls short of National Farmers' Union calls for 70,000.
Mr Eustice added that ministers would be working out a "fully-fledged" programme for the future.