I REMEMBER many years ago attending the NFU dinner in Inverness, where the speaker was Sir Malcolm Rifkind. He warned then that of all the lies told, the one that should set alarm bells ringing was if a politician claimed they were 'there to help you'.

The truth of that joke has not changed with the years. Indeed, with the Brexit process driving respect for politicians down to new depths, it is probably even more true today. Farmers in particular know little heed is being paid to their concerns about markets or post-CAP support. But the politicians ignoring them now will still knock on their door asking for votes, as though all the water under the Brexit bridge can be forgotten.

Politicians firmly believe they know best, even when they have little knowledge of the subject. We now face a situation where the trade minister, Liam Fox, is telling us to eat up our imported American chlorine-washed chicken, because it will do us no harm. However consumers have every right to like our own standards better than those thrust upon us as a by-product of having the begging bowl out to secure a trade deal with Washington. This is despite economic assessments showing that the net gain for the UK economy from a US trade deal would be marginal, and for agriculture just about non-existent.

As someone who believes in science, I accept there are sound arguments that chlorine-washed chicken is safe. After all the millions of American who eat it every day are not collapsing in the streets from food poisoning. However consumers here are different. They have, over a number of years, given the thumbs down to hormone-treated beef and GM food. These stances on choice have been fully supported by the European Commission on behalf of 500 million EU citizens. It may be possible to change those views in the UK, but that will not happen as the result of a politician desperate for a trade deal telling us that American chicken is safe. In life, people have a right to choices, and they are happy with the standards and assurances that surround food in the UK.

That this stance is maintained is important to farmers. It is the foundation of premium prices for food in the EU, where standards ensure it is not a magnet for cheap imports. Dilute those standards, and those protections against imports will no longer apply.

When politicians are telling us how wonderful trade deals will be outside the EU, farmers must ask what this brave new world will do for their industry. The trade deals the EU has put in place with some of the biggest countries in the world, including Japan, have been achieved while still protecting European agriculture. That is why it has taken years to get to a stalemate over the planned Mercosur trade deal with South American countries, led by Brazil. The EU can see the export possibilities, but is determined to maintain fair protection against cheap beef imports. Farmers need to ask whether they can trust politicians at Westminster to adopt a similarly cautious approach. The evidence to date is that this trust has not been earned.

Many people will recall at the height of the BSE crisis the then farm minister, John Gummer, feeding his daughter, Cordelia, a burger. This was a massive political gaffe, although it did his daughter no harm. It is tempting to envisage a minister today urging their children or grandchildren to eat up their chlorine-washed chicken or hormone treated beef to prove it is safe.

This is about perception rather than safety. Even worse than our own politicians telling us to accept imports to secure trade deals was the patronising message from the US ambassador to the UK. Woody Johnson, a Trump appointee, whose name always makes me think of Toy Story, constantly tells the UK it needs to get away from the EU to get closer to the US. He sees a trade deal as a way to achieve that, and believes that 'European agriculture is a museum', while chlorine-washed chicken and beef treated with hormones are the future.

The government, desperate for the political kudos of a trade deal, seems ready to accept this. It should be saying thanks, but no thanks to those views. but politicians are besotted with the prospect of a trade deal. That is unfair to both farmers and consumers.