Liam Fox: We won't drop food standards after Brexit

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International Trade Secretary Liam Fox moved to calm fears of lower post-Brexit food standards
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox moved to calm fears of lower post-Brexit food standards
26 July 2017 12:00AM

Britain will not be a "low regulation alternative" for trade after Brexit, Liam Fox has said, amid fears the country would have to relax food standards to secure an agreement between the US and UK.

The International Trade Secretary said there was "no health issue" with the controversial practice of chlorine-washing chicken, but it was "perfectly reasonable" for people to raise animal welfare concerns as he sought to allay fears that standards would be dropped.

Dr Fox, who is in Washington for talks with US trade representatives, told BBC 2's Newsnight that it was "too early" to comment on the specifics of a free trade agreement.

It comes after Donald Trump talked up the prospects of a "very big and exciting" post-Brexit trade deal between the US and UK, as he hit out at the "protectionist" EU and said work was under way on what could be a "major" deal with the UK.

The US president tweeted: "Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS! The E.U. is very protectionist with the U.S. STOP!"

Dr Fox, asked about the practice of washing poultry carcasses in chlorinated water, said: "There is no health issue with that - the European Union has said that is perfectly safe.

"The issue lies around some of the secondary issues of animal welfare and it's perfectly reasonable for people to raise that but it will come much further down the road.

"We will want to ensure that the scientific advice that we have ensures proper protection for British consumers because dropping our standards is not the way for Britain."

He ruled out "dropping our standards on consumer protection or environmental protection or on animal welfare", and said they were "all perfectly reasonable things for people to look at".

"But in terms of where we will be on specifics by the time we finish a free trade agreement which could be two or three years by the time it's concluded and implemented depending on what happens with the rest of our relationship with the EU it's too early to say.

"But you can say on a general principle that we are not going to be the low regulation alternative that some people have suggested."

His comments follow controversy over the US practice of chlorine-washing chicken to reduce the risk of contaminated meat and concern that Britain could drop standards to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

Dr Fox previously condemned media "obsession" with the issue, which he said would be only "a detail of the very end stage of one sector of a potential free trade agreement".

The House of Lords Energy and Environment sub-committee warned that animal welfare standards could be undermined if post-Brexit trade deals left 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".