Gove says US food standard demands unlikely to affect UK

The Environment Secretary has played down fears over US trade demands that the UK should accept chlorinated chicken and use of hormones.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has suggested US demands for the UK to change food standards are a political stance for ‘the domestic audience in America’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has suggested US demands for the UK to change food standards are a political stance for ‘the domestic audience in America’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Tom Eden

American demands for the UK to accept chlorinated chicken and use of hormones in food is to “appeal to aspects of the domestic audience” rather than a workable trade negotiation, Michael Gove has claimed.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said calls for the UK to change food standards in post-Brexit trade negotiations with the United States was political posturing.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy Committee, Mr Gove was asked about issues of food hygiene and use of hormone-fed animals following reports that America would want the UK to accept them after leaving the European Union.

Both hormone-fed beef and chicken washed in chlorine are banned under EU rules, preventing meat imports from the US which are produced this way.

The United States' initial ask in these trade negotiations is probably more designed to appeal to aspects of the domestic audience in America than it is to work for us Michael Gove MP

The Trump administration is seeking to eliminate or reduce these barriers to exporting agricultural products into the UK and claims fears about food safety are unfounded.

Steward Stevenson MSP raised the issue of food regulation and asked Mr Gove: “Will we very strongly resist, in any negotiations, the imposition of the kind of ideas the United States is pushing and make sure the jurisdictions across the UK are involved in setting the terms of any debate on this?”

Speaking via video link to Holyrood, Mr Gove replied: “I think it’s fair to say that the United States’ initial ask in these trade negotiations is probably more designed to appeal to aspects of the domestic audience in America than it is to work for us.”

Mr Gove has previously stated that the UK should not accept imports of chlorinated chicken as part of any future trade deal with the US, or “compromise” or “dilute” animal welfare standards.

He later added that it is “absolutely critical” that devolved countries are involved in setting the UK’s negotiating position before trade discussions after Brexit.

Mr Gove said: “What we want to do is to make sure that the negotiating mandate that we have in those trade negotiations is as widely understood as possible, that we involve people from across the United Kingdom and that we take advantage of the expertise and commitment of the devolved administrations.

“During those negotiations, it has to be the UK Government because it’s an international treaty at the end of it, but I think it is absolutely critical that we make sure that any trade agreement works for all parts of the United Kingdom.”

He added: “Two of the UK’s most-important exports are salmon and whisky and I want to maintain that the high standards we have are in no way undermined.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The Secretary of State has been clear on numerous occasions that we do not intend to compromise on our high food standards in pursuit of any trade deals, and we will use all the tools at our disposal to make sure standards are protected and British farmers are not left at a competitive disadvantage.

“Our food and drink enjoys a global reputation for quality and the Government is proud of our high standards of food safety, animal health and on-farm welfare, which our farmers work hard to maintain.

“We will only accept imports that meet the standards we currently maintain on behalf of British consumers.”

Press Association