Environment secretary refuses to rule out chlorinated chicken in UK three times in interview

George Eustice appears on Sky News. Photograph: Sky.

George Eustice appears on Sky News. Photograph: Sky. - Credit: Archant

The environment secretary has refused to rule out chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef being imported from the US in a post-Brexit trade deal three times during a television interview.

George Eustice's predecessor before the recent reshuffle had insisted the controversial products from the States would not be imported amid animal welfare and environmental fears.

But Eustice, while saying there are "no plans" to change the law, did not explicitly rule it out when pressed three times on the subject.

With the government expected to publish its negotiating position for a free trade deal with Washington within two weeks, he told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday that the government would not "take risks" on standards of welfare.

But he said "lactic acid washes" are now more commonly used in the US than chlorine, which is unlikely to allay fears over animal welfare because concerns centre on treatment before the washes themselves.

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"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 said.

Theresa Villiers, who was relegated from leading the environment department to the backbenches in Boris Johnson's reshuffle, had been explicit in January that the EU laws banning chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef would be adopted here.

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"There are legal barriers to their import and those are going to stay in place," she added.

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."

The minister also defended Boris Johnson for defying calls to visit flood-stricken areas.

He said that the "first thing" the prime minister told him last week when he was appointed to the role was that there were storms incoming.

"It was agreed that I would make a visit to look at our preparedness over that weekend," Eustice said.

"It's not true that the prime minister's not been engaged in this. From the very moment he appointed me he's been engaged. We stood up a national flood response centre and there have been daily conference calls that I've led.

"And in a cabinet government it's not a one-man show, it's right that on certain operational things such as this that the prime minister will ask one of his cabinet members to lead, I can't see anything wrong with that."

Pressed on why the PM has not been seen in public in nine days in stark contrast to during flooding in the election period when he made visits and called an emergency Cobra meeting.

He said that was because election campaigning rules meant there was "less ministerial involvement", so "there was seen to be something of a slow start".

"That's why, because of the criticism, the prime minister in that instance did stand up Cobra," he said, adding that it has not been "necessary this time" because of the existing national flood response centre.

"We didn't need to stand up a separate Cabinet Office infrastructure in the form of Cobra because you already had one dedicated to floods that was operating."

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