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Minister claims dropping food import standards would cause ‘untold damage’

UK Trade Policy Minister George Hollingbery told MPs standards would not be lowered to secure free trade arrangements once the UK leaves the EU.

Lowering standards for food imports to secure post-Brexit trade agreements would cause “untold damage”, the UK’s Trade Policy Minister has said.

Questioned over fears of chlorine-treated chicken or hormone-injected beef being allowed into the UK, George Hollingbery told MPs the country’s reputation for quality would not be on the line.

He said any lowering of the standards would be “commercial madness”.

Giving evidence at Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee, he said: “We will not be lowering our standards… Our standards include those which apply to imports.

“It would be commercial madness for us to drop those standards.”

Mr Hollingbery said the UK’s overseas brand is one of “top-level quality”, adding: “Looking particularly at food and drink, we would be foolish, commercially, internationally to lower our standards.

“It would do us untold damage.”

Committee chairman Pete Wishart asked: “Would you be prepared even to go as far as to say that if a free trade arrangements was offered by the United States that looked favourable on a whole range of issues, that would be rejected in order to maintain the very high standards that we have around quality?”

The Minister replied: “We will not be lowering our standards. My opinion is that commercially and internationally it would be a very, very ill-thought through thing to do.”

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said many of the issues around standards are “entirely fanciful”, adding: “I cannot see this parliament agreeing chlorine-washed chicken coming into Scotland or the United Kingdom.”

Mr Wishart said the information was very “reassuring” given the concerns which been sparked over possible imports of products which are banned in the European Union such as chlorine-washed chicken, genetically-modified crops and hormone-enhanced beef.

Last week, Westminster’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee called for the Agriculture Bill to be changed to ensure future trade deals only allow goods that meet or exceed current rules on production, animal welfare and the environment into the UK.

In the report, committee chairman Neil Parish, warned against the UK’s reputation for quality being “ripped apart by the introduction of cheap, low-quality goods following our exit from the European Union”.

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