FARMING leaders this week warned the Government not to betray British farmers or the public in any agricultural trade deals with the USA.

Minette Batters, NFU president, questioned whether the public would accept low welfare chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef flooding supermarket shelves.

George Dunn, Tenant Farmers Association chief executive, warned the Government against undermining British farmers by agreeing trade deals allowing the imports of products produced to lower standards than apply domestically.

Mrs Batters said: "British farmers do not rely on chlorine-wash to ensure their chicken is safe to eat, nor do they feed growth hormones to their cattle, pigs or dairy cows.

"In the US, there are hardly any welfare laws for laying hens, with no federal laws on housing, which are in stark contrast to the UK's advanced rules on laying hen welfare."

She said US farmers could out compete UK farmers on price by using products and methods banned in the UK as early as the 1980's.

"That's not a criticism of US farmers but a statement of fact about the different legal requirements facing farmers in the UK," Mrs Batters said.

"Allowing free access for cheaper US produce would completely takes the legs out of our farming sector, with higher production costs leaving farmers completely uncompetitive. It could jeopardise our entire domestic food production system and undermine public trust.

"If the government chooses to pursue a trade deal that facilitates products entering the country produced to these banned methods, I would consider that a betrayal of British farmers and the values we all stand for."

Mr Dunne said UK production standards had been imposed not just for food safety but for environmental and animal welfare reasons.

He said: "While these can be more difficult to protect within international trade it is not impossible. However, it will require determination on the part of the British Government to ensure that current standards are upheld and that there is legislation to apply the same standards to traded products.

“Without a clear commitment from the British Government to uphold our standards British farmers will be forced to compete unfairly and will be undermined commercially.

"A race to the bottom on standards should not be our aspiration, but if we open the floodgates to lower standard products from abroad that is exactly what we will achieve. The Government cannot talk about high standards on the one hand and undermine them for political expediency on the other."