Trade secretary Liam Fox has played down claims importing foods under a new UK-US trade deal could mean a loosening of food standards post-Brexit.
Fears were sparked after Donald Trump hailed a ‘new chapter for stronger trade’ between Britain and the United States after Fox held talks with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
But Fox was quick to play down critics’ fears that any agreement would open up British markets to US agricultural products including the controversial chickens.
It came as a cross-party House of Lords EU committee warned that the Government’s desire to secure free trade agreements after leaving the European Union could result in a ‘race to the bottom’ on animal welfare standards as UK producers are forced to cut costs.
Speaking during a visit to Washington for talks on post-Brexit links with the US, Dr Fox said any decision on chickens would be a ‘detail’ at the end stage of negotiations.
The Lords’ Energy and Environment sub-committee warned that animal welfare standards could be undermined if post-Brexit trade deals leave UK farmers competing against less-regulated foreign rivals.
The peers also raised concerns about the ‘overwhelming reliance’ on EU citizens in crucial veterinary positions and urged ministers to make sure the industry was able to fill those roles after Brexit.
The report said: ‘Our evidence strongly suggests that 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.
‘Unless consumers are willing to pay for higher welfare products, UK farmers could become uncompetitive and welfare standards in the UK could come under pressure.’
They warned that imports from lower-welfare countries could ‘undermine the sustainability of the industry or incentivise a race to the bottom for welfare standards – contrary to the wishes of the UK industry’.
The peers also noted that much farm animal welfare research is backed by Brussels and ‘Brexit could lead to a major funding gap’.