Protect small-scale farmers in the North from the American agro-industrial complex, says MP Chi Onwurah

The Government has been urged to take greater steps to stop small-scale farmers in the North from being "undercut by the American agro-industrial complex" in a post-Brexit trade deal.

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah yesterdsay questioned Environment Secretary George Eustice on what Ministers were doing to protect farmers who are "small in scale but with really high production standards".

During Environment Questions, she said: "As lockdown eases, many of my constituents are once again enjoying the glorious Northumbrian and County Durham landscapes.

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"That depends on farmers small in scale but with really high production standards, whether it be for the cattle they graze on the town moor, or the sheep on the Cheviots, or the grain sold through local co-operatives such as Tynegrain.

Farmers are concerned about whether a UK-US trade deal would lead to standards being lowered.

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"Why will the Minister not commit to writing into law that we do not import food with lower standards than those that our farmers already meet, so that they are not undercut by the American agro-industrial complex?"

Responding for the Government, Environment Minister Victoria Prentis said: "We are clear that any future trade agreements must work for both our farmers and consumers".

She added: "This week, DEFRA and the Department for International Trade have jointly announced a package of measures to help food and drink businesses grow their trade overseas.

"The package is aimed in particular at small businesses, which make up 97% of the food and drink industry. This will benefit businesses across the UK, including those in the North of England.

"We will always stand up for British farming and we will use our negotiations to make new opportunities for our businesses large and small."

A survey this week suggested that the majority of British consumers are against imports of lower standard food as part of any future UK-US trade deal..

In a poll of more than 2,000 people carried out for consumer group Which?, 86 per cent were worried that a weakening of standards under a post-Brexit free trade agreement could lead to currently banned products appearing in the UK.

Which? said this could include chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef being served up in schools, hospitals and restaurants, where people may have little information or choice about what they eat.

Later in the Commons, a Tory MP urged that chlorinated chicken must not be "on the menu" as part of future trade negotiations.

Raising the concerns of constituents who enjoy a "cheeky Nando's", Conservative MP Matt Vickers (Stockton South) called for the UK to remain a "world leader" on food and animal welfare standards.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said that the sale of any poultry treated with a chlorine wash is currently prohibited.

Mr Vickers said: "Many people across Stockton South and I enjoy a cheeky Nando's or a finger-lickin' good KFC. We are concerned at the prospect of chlorinated chicken.

"Can (Mr Eustice) guarantee once again that chlorinated chicken will not be on the menu in our trade negotiations and that we'll remain a world leader on food and animal welfare standards?"

Mr Eustice responded: "In any trade negotiation it will be for the UK to determine what goes in the so-called SPS chapter which addresses these issues."

He added: "There is currently a prohibition on sale of any poultry treated with a chlorine wash."