The government still says ‘trust us’ on chlorinated chicken. We don’t.

The government still says ‘trust us’ on chlorinated chicken. We don’t.

By: Nick Dearden
Date: 2 November 2020
Campaigns: Trade

The pressure is working. This weekend, government ministers performed a U-turn and announced concessions on food standards in future trade deals.

First, they promised the new Trade and Agriculture Commission will last for at least three years, rather than 6 months, giving it time to better scrutinise trade deals. Second, they are promising that the government will have a duty to report to parliament on whether new trade deals are consistent with maintaining our standards. 

Given it’s only three weeks since the government refused to even hold a vote on a similar amendment, we know that this is a result of serious pressure from campaigners. But while these changes are useful, it’s important to note they are not sufficient to prevent the threat of lower standard food ending up in Britain.

Two ways to stop chlorine chicken

One way to prevent imports of chlorinated chicken and other lower standard food through a trade deal would be to make such imports illegal in the Agriculture Bill, which is continuing through parliament. The government remains opposed to that – but MPs will have a further chance to support an amendment to do this in the House of Commons on Wednesday .

The second way would be for MPs to have the power to block a trade deal that would bring in such food. Sadly, the Government’s proposed changes do not alter the fact that MPs currently have no ability to stop a trade deal coming into effect. 

Without either of these formal safeguards, we are left relying on the government’s word.

Unfortunately, we do not trust this government to do the right thing. It is all too easy to imagine Liz Truss or Boris Johnson saying that they tried their best to protect food standards, but they had to give ground as the price of securing a deal.  

That’s why food standards need to be protected in law, and trade deals need to be subject to parliamentary approval.

We’re winning – but we need to step up the pressure

Today’s concessions show the government recognises they’ve got a problem with huge public concern over food standards and trade deals. But they’re hoping these weak concessions will put an end to it. Instead, we need to step up our campaign.

Right now, we need MPs to vote for the ban in the Agriculture Bill. You can email your MP ahead of tomorrow’s vote via our friends at Sustain.

After that, amendments to the Trade Bill in the House of Lords could give parliament the ability to properly scrutinise and, if necessary, stop trade deals. Without this power, the government will still be able to use trade deals to make detrimental changes to our food standards, to our NHS, to our rights online and more. So if you haven’t already done so, please write to the party leaders in the House of Lords now.   

There’s every reason to be worried. Only today the government told us that “Almost all chapter areas [in the US trade deal] are now in the advanced stages of talks. A significant proportion of legal text has been agreed across multiple chapters.”

Whoever wins tomorrow’s US election, we will need to keep fighting against this toxic deal. 


Photo: Karl Nesh/Shutterstock