Dozens of MPs and peers have backed Which?’s call for the government to clarify its food standards commitments, amid concerns current laws banning chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef could be changed without a vote in parliament.
The letter, organised by Which?, is addressed to Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss MP and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice MP and highlights on-going concerns surrounding the government’s manifesto pledge to protect food standards as trade deals are negotiated with the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
While the government has made welcome commitments in parliament to protect the UK’s world-leading food standards regime, it has resisted efforts to have these included in the Agriculture or Trade Bills – maintaining that existing laws ban food produced to lower standards in the UK.
The government has also declined an opportunity to confirm to MPs that it will not ask the current parliament to remove the bans on chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef from the statute book. Which? has concerns – supported by a growing body of expert opinion – that some of these laws could be changed using secondary legislation.
The letter calls on the government to reassure millions of consumers that it will maintain the existing bans and will not ask this parliament at any stage to change the law. It also asks the government to provide much-needed clarity about what is entailed by its commitments, so the public can have confidence that food standards will not be undermined.
The letter has gained widespread support from senior politicians across all parties in the House of Commons and House of Lords – including former agriculture ministers, one of whom is also a former head of the Food Standards Agency, the chair of the International Trade Committee and a former chair of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
Which? research has shown the majority (95%) of British consumers believe the UK’s current high food standards should be maintained and nearly three-quarters (72%) are strongly opposed to imports of food produced to lower standards such as chlorinated chicken and beef injected with hormones.
In the next few months, trade talks will intensify as the government attempts to secure deals before the transition period with the EU ends. However, public support is needed for these deals to be deemed a success.
As parliament returns and amid concerns that consumers have already been excluded from trade discussions and advisory groups, the government must use this opportunity to reassure the public that the food standards built up over 20 years of national effort will not be traded away at the negotiating table.
The government should also take the chance to send a strong message to trading partners that the UK is ready to strike ambitious trade deals that bring greater choice and more competitive prices for consumers, on the basis of working together to improve food standards for all.
Anabel Hoult, CEO of Which?, said:
“Despite the government’s pledges to protect food standards in future trade deals, the public remains concerned that the ban on chlorine-washed chicken and beef-injected hormones could be dropped without proper scrutiny.
“As parliament returns, the government must address these concerns by clarifying its commitment to protect food standards and giving a cast-iron guarantee that it will not, in this parliament, seek to remove this ban from the statute books.”
Notes to editors:
More than 200,000 people have already joined Which?’s Save Our Food Standards campaign and signed our petition calling on the government to uphold these hard won protections as the UK negotiates new trade deals. Find out more here: https://campaigns.which.co.uk/save-food-standards/