International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has slammed the British media for being “obsessed” with chlorine-washed chickens after he was challenged to eat one while on a visit to the US.
The unlikely request came after it was reported Fox supports the inclusion of US-bred chlorine-bathed poultry products entering British food markets as he attempts to forge new post-Brexit trade deals.
His position appears to have caused a split in the Cabinet, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House, reportedly both opposed to the idea.
It also shone light on the potential changes to food standards after the UK quits the European Union as new trade partnerships are agreed.
A spokesperson for Fox said the Tory MP had “no position” on the issue, but the Daily Telegraph reported a source close to him who said American consumers had been eating the products “safely for years”.
The issue came to a head while the Cabinet minister was in Washington DC and the pro-EU campaign group Open Britain urged Fox to eat a chlorine-bathed chicken live on air.
When asked if he would be “comfortable” eating an American chicken during a press conference in the States, Fox was dismissive:
“In a debate which should be about how we make our contribution to global liberalisation and the increased prosperity of both the UK, the US and our trading partners, the complexities of those - the continuity agreements, the short-term gains that we may make, the opportunities we have and our ability to work jointly towards both a free-trade agreement and WTO liberalisation - the British media are obsessed with chlorine-washed chickens, a detail of the very end stage of one sector of a potential free trade agreement.
“I say no more than that.”
For context, many pointed to the infamous incident in 1990 when then agriculture minister John Gummer fed a beef burger to his four-year-old daughter to convince the country that British beef was safe amid fears the cattle disease BSE could infect humans.
Open Britain’s executive director James McGrory had said:
“If the International Trade Secretary wants the public to trust him, he needs to take the opportunity while he’s in the US and devour a chlorine-washed chicken live on camera.
“The choice of recipe is up to him, but one serving suggestion might be Chlorination Chicken.
“The proof of the chicken is in the eating and if Dr Fox thinks it’s safe, he should put his money where his mouth is. If he doesn’t, he is just chicken.”
Fellow Brexiteers, including Conservative MEP Dan Hannan, rallied behind the minister.
Though it prompted a further backlash.
Meanwhile, Fox admitted the UK is unlikely to sign a free trade deal with the EU by the time Brexit happens.
He told the audience in Washington DC today that there was a “growing consensus” in the Cabinet that a transition arrangement would be needed to “diminish any instability” in the economy.
“It would nice to think we could get a full free trade agreement by the time we get to March 2019, but that would be an optimistic view of recent free trade agreements,” he said.
In his speech, Fox also hit out at those in the UK he said were trying to “thwart” Brexit and for warning a vote to Leave would cause economic “chaos”.
“They are dreaming,” he said. “We have a majority in the House of Commons to get our Brexit legislation through.”
He added: “Those who opposed us leaving EU told us, very explicitly, as soon as Britain votes to leave this economic chaos will come down on us. that we will requite an emergency budget, a rise in taxation ,the economy will slow down.
“Where is this dreadful economic armageddon that was going to happen?”