A health scare over allowing US imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef has been "concocted by anti-Americans" wanting to sabotage a potential trade deal, a Tory former cabinet minister has claimed.

Dismissing the concerns, Lord Lilley insisted neither of the products posed a risk to humans.

He was joined by fellow Tory peer and House Of Cards author Lord Dobbs, who put the public health "commotion" down to those "who have a political rather than a scientific objective".

However, their party colleague on the front bench, environment minister Lord Goldsmith of Richmond, disagreed, arguing there were "many reasons" to be concerned about chlorine-washed chicken, including the practices that require its use.

He pointed out Parliament had already legislated to outlaw this process and the use of growth hormones and stressed the importance of ensuring imports did not undermine domestic producers, who followed high standards.

Any changes to the rules would require legislation and Lord Goldsmith said he was confident politicians at Westminster would not back relaxing the regulations.

The Government has already pledged not to compromise on food import standards as part of future trade deals post-Brexit.

The issue was raised in the House of Lords by Lord Lilley, who pressed the Government over what advice it gave to travellers to the US on the risks of eating chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef.

South West Farmer:

Official portrait of Lord Lilley. Picture: Roger Harris, Wikimedia Commons

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On being told there was no such guidance, the Brexit-backing peer said: "Isn't the real reason for not issuing a health warning that American chicken or beef pose no health risks?

"Indeed, there are fewer salmonella and campylobacter cases in America than in Europe.

"Hasn't this scare been concocted by anti-Americans who want to sabotage a potential UK-US trade deal?

"But they won't succeed because in fact 90 per cent of US chicken is not washed with chlorine, which anyway poses no health risks, and American animal welfare standards are no lower than in eastern Europe, Thailand and Brazil, from which we currently import chicken and beef.

"So shouldn't we focus on the opportunities a US deal could offer British farmers, manufacturers and financial services?"

Responding, Lord Goldsmith said EU withdrawal legislation prohibited the use of artificial growth hormones in meat products.

He added: "Our legislation also prohibits the use of anything other than potable water to decontaminate poultry carcasses and any changes to that would require new legislation.

"It is important to note that the approach we follow in this country, and which I believe consumers want, is one where animals are reared in a way that does not necessitate chlorine treatment to be made safe."

But Lord Dobbs said: "Is it true that there isn't a shred of evidence that washing chlorine is harming US consumers?

"Isn't it true that here in the UK we wash fruit and vegetables in chlorine as well as our kids in swimming pools?

"And isn't it true that we put chlorine in our drinking water to keep us healthy?

"So surely Sherlock Holmes would conclude that this commotion is largely being pushed by those who have a political rather than a scientific objective and they want consumers and taxpayers to pay for it. Am I anywhere near the target?"

Lord Goldsmith said: "There are many reasons for being concerned about the use of chlorine to wash chicken carcasses.

"One concern that has been raised is about the process that necessitates the use of chlorine. In this country our legislative approach requires the rearing of animals in such a way as they do not, at the time of slaughter, need to be washed down with chlorine in order to make them safe.

"The process matters as much as the outcome and that is the approach we use in this country. It is also the approach that is used across the European Union.

"Where produce in the United States meets a standard which is vaguely comparable with our own, then we would be very keen to encourage and facilitate trade between our two countries."

Independent crossbencher Baroness Deech said: "Does the minister agree with me that we need to push back against EU propaganda designed to frustrate our deal with the USA?

"The global food security index 2020, based on quality, affordability and availability, places the USA at number three in the world, with the UK at number 17, with many European states much lower down."

She highlighted a string of food safety scares in Europe, including over horse meat, cooking oil and eggs, which she argued was "because it's all regulation and no enforcement".

Lady Deech said: "Will he agree that US food standards are at least as good if not superior to our own?"

Lord Goldsmith said: "On some areas I would agree very strongly. As a champion of free trade the Government absolutely believes that an ambitious free trade agreement is in both the UK's and the US interest.

"It will help our economies bounce back following the economic challenges imposed upon us by coronavirus.

"But on the issue of standards, it is important that the imports that come into this country do not undercut unfairly our own producers who are required to produce their food to a very high standard, both in terms of the environment and health and animal welfare.

"The Government has committed, as it did in our manifesto before the election, to ensuring that our high animal welfare and environmental standards are not undermined though the pursuit of free trade agreements."