Batters called for commission to be formed to oversee trade regulations

Batters called for commission to be formed to oversee trade regulations

It would be "morally bankrupt" and "the work of the insane" for the UK to strike post-Brexit trade deals that allow food imports from countries operating to lower standards, the head of the country's farmers' union has said.

Food standards have become a hot issue as the UK agri-food sector prepares for the country's government to embark on trade negotiations in the wake of Brexit.

Supporters of Brexit have argued the ability for the UK to now strike trade deals independently outside the EU will lower food prices in the country. Others are concerned an agreement with, say, the US may necessitate the UK having to accept imports of products such as chlorine-washed chicken.

The practice in parts of the US supply chain to wash poultry in chlorine has been held up by some UK food advocates as an example of the lower food standards in America that may have to be accepted in the event of a trade deal between the two countries. The controversy over the practice, banned by the EU, is less about the washing itself and more about whether its use indicates low hygiene standards elsewhere in the chain. US poultry industry professionals have defended the practice.

Minette Batters, the president of The National Farmers' Union, the UK's principal farming lobby organisation, highlighted the process in a wide-ranging conference speech urging the country's government to protect standards.

"This year the government must show global leadership, insist that UK farm standards are the benchmark for climate-friendly farming around the world, and that whoever wants to trade with us trades on our terms," Batters said.

"And we must not allow those standards to be undermined by imports of goods which would be illegal for our farmers to produce here. In other parts of the world abattoirs use chlorine or other chemicals to wash carcasses. Battery cage egg production is still permitted in some countries – but was banned here in 2012.

"And in Japan, Australia, China, Canada, Brazil, Malaysia and India the use of antibiotics is permitted for growth promotion. To sign up to a trade deal which results in opening our ports, shelves and fridges to food which would be illegal to produce here would not only be morally bankrupt; it would be the work of the insane. This goes wider than what's good for farming. This is about what's good for Britain."

Batters also called on the UK government to set up a panel of experts to monitor trade rules on agri-food and for that oversight to be backed by regulation.

"I'm a realist. I know that this will test the moral compass of some in government. There are going to have to be some trade-offs and it would be a pipe dream to expect every country in the world to operate to the same rules and regulations," Batters told the NFU conference.

"What standards will we accept? What is unacceptable? It's an issue which can't be solved in 280 characters on twitter or in a quick soundbite, which is why it's absolutely vital there is a specialist body of experts set up to oversee trade regulations regarding agriculture and food - a trade and standards commission. And it is vital that we have legislation which ensures these experts are listened to."