Another year, another Defra minister. And with it more uncertainty for food’s position in upcoming trade talks.

That is at least according to the Sunday Telegraph, which reported yesterday Theresa Villiers is due to be sacked from cabinet next month.

The rumours follow a difficult week for the environment secretary, who demonstrated a seemingly inadequate comprehension of the UK’s policy on chlorinated chicken by offering two contradictory statements in the space of 24 hours.

After warning a farming conference on Wednesday that we may import US chicken but under a new set of tariffs, Villiers rushed to correct herself on BBC’s Countryfile the following day, promising the government will “hold the line” and “defend our national interest” by rejecting the controversial poultry.

It is a slip-up that would have no doubt done little to impress Boris Johnson. However, it was also reflective of the government’s seemingly undecided position on UK food standards, which are due to come under relentless pressure from negotiators as trade talks begin.

The debate on chlorinated chicken has divided government cabinets since the referendum. Former trade secretary Liam Fox often insisted the UK would have to accept the practice, while Michael Gove repeatedly insisted the UK would not accept it under any circumstances during his stint as Defra minister.

Chlorinated chicken explained: why do the Americans treat their poultry with chlorine?

Villiers’ comments are simply the latest example in a long line of government failures to reassure the food industry on where it stands.

The reason behind the lack of clarity is widely apparent. The US is insistent on the fact that without chlorinated chicken on the table, there is no comprehensive trade deal - something Johnson will be unwilling to let go of after long touting the US market as Brexit’s ultimate prize. His ally Gove, now free of the constraints of Defra, is likely to agree.

Some argue it is therefore less a question of if we will import the controversial poultry, but rather what steps the government will take to appease public opinion on the politically toxic issue.

Many pundits believe the government must launch a PR campaign in order to pacify the uproar that will inevitably erupt upon signing a US deal including chlorinated chicken. Others suggest the issue will be buried in years’ worth of tedious reviews and legislation after a trade deal is reached, quelling public interest and allowing an agreement to eventually be signed in the US’s favour.

Only a small minority believe Johnson will hold firm and protect British food.

For those that do, a small glimmer of hope is Carrie Symonds, partner of Boris Johnson and passionate animal rights campaigner. They believe her sway over the prime minister combined with her record of fighting animal rights issues could convince No 10 not to accept chickens raised in conditions unacceptable in Britain.

”The Carrie Symonds effect is strong,” animal rights campaigner Dominic Dyer told the Guardian. “I would not underestimate her influence over these issues.”

Admittedly, persuading Johnson to abandon a US trade deal seems fanciful at best. But at this point grasping at straws could be all we have left.