The Government has refused to rule out lifting the ban on chlorinated chicken as part of a future US-UK trade deal after Brexit.
The American Farming Association is adamant that any deal must include agriculture, meaning chlorine washed chickens, hormone-fed beef and genetically modified crops could be exported to the UK.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who is in the US to prepare the ground for a future trade deal, is reportedly open to agreeing to such products – which are banned by the EU – being imported to the UK in order to secure an agreement.
EU rules mean the UK cannot sign a deal until after it has left the bloc.
According to The Daily Telegraph, there is a Cabinet split on the issue, with Dr Fox and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arguing their case against Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
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When Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman briefed the media earlier he described such a prospect as “hypothetical”.
But Sky’s Political Editor Faisal Islam, who was at the briefing, said the spokesman did not deny that this type of issue is “up for grabs”.
The spokesman said: “Our priority when it comes to food is that maintaining the safety and public confidence in the food we eat is of the highest priority.
“Any future trade deal must work for UK farmers, businesses and consumers.”
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When asked if he would feel comfortable eating a chlorine washed chicken, Dr Fox said the media was “obsessed” with something that would be decided at the “very end stage” of trade talks.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, a supporter of the pro-EU campaign group Open Britain, said the Government was “putting the Fox in charge of the hen coop” on food safety.
The campaign group has issued a challenge to Dr Fox, calling on him to publicly eat chlorine washed chicken during his US trip.
Mr Bradshaw said: “They are so desperate for new trade deals to make up for some of the losses that they seem ready to compromise on the safety of the food we eat.
“The Government must not water down rules that protect consumers, and neither should they follow any policy that undermines our own farmers.”
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The British Poultry Council said “any compromise on standards will not be tolerated”, while shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said Dr Fox is “ready to abandon British poultry farmers in favour of cheap US imports that do not meet our sanitary or animal welfare standards”.
The Adam Smith Institute has called for the Government to scrap the EU ban on chlorine washed chickens, warning poultry market access was likely to be a red line in the talks.
In a report, the think-tank said US chickens were more than a fifth cheaper than in the UK and claimed that a person would have to eat three chlorine washed chickens daily for an extended period to be at risk of any harm.
Author Peter Spence said: “Trade critics like to suggest that signing a deal with the USA will mean that Brits will be forced to eat unsafe produce.
“In reality, chlorinated chicken is so harmless that even the EU’s own scientific advisers have declared that it is ‘of no safety concern’.”