MPs have warned that a controversial trade deal being negotiated between the European Union and the United States risks an unacceptable "race to the bottom" on environmental standards.
The transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) could weaken European and UK regulation in areas including genetically modified crops, chemicals in cosmetics and meat treated with growth hormones, as a result of efforts to align standards between laxer US rules and the EU.
A report by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee also suggested it could make it harder to strengthen rules on issues such animal welfare or climate change in the future - particularly if the deal allows US companies to sue government for bringing in new regulations that harm their businesses. Campaign groups including trade unions and 38 Degrees have been protesting against TTIP, claiming the deal would lead to the privatisation of NHS services.
But the Government maintains it would give a huge boost to business, creating jobs, cutting red tape and opening up new markets, especially for smaller firms.
One of the most contentious areas of the EU-US trade deal concerns the potential dispute procedures governments could face if they introduce new regulations that make it harder for foreign companies to sell their goods and services in the EU.
The EAC said a compelling case for such a process in the trade deal had not been made, and any that was included must not allow US companies to sue EU governments for bringing in necessary environmental or public health safeguards.
The committee's report said environmental concerns over aligning standards could be addressed, but there was not enough transparency at the moment on the deal to see if the risks would be dealt with.
The UK government, along with other EU member states, must be more closely involved with the negotiations from now on, and engage with environmental groups and agencies to make sure environmental concerns are addressed alongside economic and trade considerations, the committee said.