The Government have been urged to maintain the import ban on chlorinated chicken during the report stage of the Trade Bill.

Tory former environment secretary Theresa Villiers called on the Government to confirm that it will keep in place the ban amid concerns the Government is set to open British markets to lower US welfare standards.

The process involves chickens that have been slaughtered and gutted washed in chemicals to remove any harmful bacteria and the process is often referred to as "Pathogen Reduction Treatments (PRTs)."

Ms Villiers said she hoped the Government “will consider seriously whether changes can be made to strengthen parliamentary oversight, whether it is via the amendments today or in the other place (House of Lords)”.

READ MORE: What is chlorinated chicken and why are people concerned?

Ms Villiers told MPs: “Maintaining our domestic rules on animal welfare and environmental stewardship of land will have less and less of a real world impact if more and more of our food is imported from countries with lower standards and fewer qualms about these matters than we do.”

She added: “All I’m asking is that we don’t sell ourselves short in this country. The UK is the third-biggest market for groceries in the world, even conditional access to that market is a valuable prize.

“Just because we would like a trade deal with the US doesn’t mean that we should give them everything they want. There is so much we can offer our trading partners in the US and other countries, and is it so unreasonable to say that when it comes to food, there are limits to liberalisation?”

Fellow Tory Steve Brine said: “Ultimately, won’t the consumer decide? Just recently we heard Waitrose make it very, very clear that they wouldn’t be selling any product that was imported to a lower standard than we currently enjoy in this country, and their new boss actually quoted chlorine-washed chicken. I just wonder whether the public might be ahead of us on this one already.”

Labour frontbencher Bill Esterson also told MPs: “The lack of scrutiny threatens to leave the NHS wide open to pharmaceutical giants and to undermine farmers and consumers.

“Chemical washes of chicken, hormones in beef, ractopamine in pork and GM crops are banned in the UK – what’s wrong with keeping it that way?

“If the Government is saying we’re going to do it any way, what’s the objection to putting it all in primary legislation?”

Mr Esterson added: “The trouble is we all know what’s really going on here – they don’t want to put protections for our NHS, farmers and consumers in law or take the action needed on the climate crisis because they have no intention of keeping their promises.”

Greg Hands said the Government has “now concluded 20 continuity agreements with 48 countries, accounting for £110 billion worth of UK trade in 2018, which represents 74% of the trade with countries with whom we’re seeking continuity before the Withdrawal Agreement was signed”.

READ MORE: Opinion: Iain Macwhirter: The chlorinated chickens are now coming home to roost

Addressing MPs he said: “Each of these agreements have been accompanied by a parliamentary report.

“I can confirm we will continue to publish reports for all continuity agreements yet to be signed.

“As these parliamentary reports make clear, our continuity programme has remained true to its mandate, replicating our existing trade relationships.

“Let me repeat: the standards have not been lowered in these 20 agreements, unsafe food will not be entering our market and our right to choose how we deliver public services has been protected.”