Alarmism over chlorinated chicken must end, agri trade chair says

The new agri-trade chief has called for industry 'alarmism' over lower-standard food imports to end
The new agri-trade chief has called for industry 'alarmism' over lower-standard food imports to end

The new chair of the Trade and Agriculture Commission has called for an end to 'alarmism' when it comes to discussing controversial issues such as chlorinated chicken.

Tim Smith, a former chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, said farmers should have a 'clear-eyed perspective' on the issue of food imports post-Brexit.

His commission, created to help inform post-Brexit trade policy, was announced by the government's international trade secretary Liz Truss last month.

The body will make recommendations for agricultural trade policy, higher animal welfare standards and export opportunities for farmers.

Farming bodies have frequently raised concerns over the possibility of lower-standard food imports as a result of trade deals between countries such as the US.

Last week, dozens of farmers descended on Westminster's Parliament Square to protest against the 'opening of floodgates to lower-regulated food'.

However, in an article for The Telegraph, Mr Smith called for an end to such 'alarmism' in the industry and for 'cool heads' to prevail.

"The alarmism recently around issues like imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef – both of which are banned in the UK – do neither the industry nor the public any favours," he said.

"Having a clear-eyed perspective on what is fair and works for consumers, farmers, food producers and animals is important. This is a time for cool heads and thoughtful discussion."

Mr Smith added: "It is in this spirit of inclusivity and transparency that the government has agreed to establish a Trade and Agriculture Commission, and I am delighted to have been appointed as its Chairman."

He reiterated the government's manifesto pledge that it would not to lower food and farming standards to secure a post-Brexit trade deal.

This is despite MPs in the House of Commons voting to reject an agriculture bill amendment which sought to protect UK food and farming standards in any trade deal.

Mr Smith said: "I strongly believe any trade deal the UK strikes must be fair and balanced for our farmers and growers, and must not compromise on our hard won high standards of food safety and animal welfare.

"The government has been very clear on both these points."

But the commission has been criticised by the RSPCA for lacking members from the animal welfare sector, warning that the body could be a 'fig leaf' which would fail to protect standards.

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “For this to be truly effective, it must have proper representation from the animal welfare sector.

"Without this, the commission appears to be a Trojan horse which fails to fulfil the government’s manifesto promises to protect welfare standards."

He added: “We fear this industry-heavy commission will not have animal welfare at its heart and instead will be a tool for deregulation, which represents a real risk to farm animal standards."

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) added its concerns that the commission could become 'yet another government quango'.

TFA chief executive, George Dunn explained how he hoped that the commission was not an 'Emperors new clothes situation'.

"The government must commit to act on the commission’s recommendations, rather than following the classic Whitehall tradition of allowing reports from such bodies to gather dust on ministerial shelves,” he said.