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Analysis

Staying in EU means US chlorinated chicken can cluck off

by Joel Baccas | 10.06.2019

Amidst the anti-Trump protests last week were several people dressed as chickens. These demonstrators were raising the alarm about a post-Brexit trade deal with the US meaning chlorine-washed chicken entering our supermarkets.

InFacts has previously explained why going it alone after Brexit would see us bullied into unappetising trade deals with bigger economic powers. But what is it about EU membership that protects us from poor-quality food in the shops?

The EU’s General Food Law Regulation creates a farm-to-fork approach that covers all sectors of the food chain. It aims for a high level of protection of human life, health and the protection of consumers’ interests, as well as the protection of animal health and welfare, plant health and the environment. It also sets up an independent agency to provide scientific advice and support, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Crucially, the regulation also means food imported from outside the EU must comply with EU standards – including everything from clear labelling to food hygiene.

But once we leave the EU, its treaties will cease to apply to the UK and we will lose the protections of EU membership. UK politicians will be able to roll back standards if, for example, it helps them sign a shiny new trade deal with the Americans.

Chlorinated chicken was banned in Europe in 1997. It was not the consumption of chlorine itself that was the issue, rather that it could lead to poor hygiene standards during the production process. EU rules ensure a high level of safety throughout the food chain rather than just a quick chemical wash at the end of the process.

Channel 4’s Dispatches ‘The Truth about Chlorinated Chicken’ revealed shocking conditions in the US food production process. These would be unacceptable under EU rules – which the UK has a hand in forming. It even revealed that some bacteria on the meat simply goes dormant and isn’t killed by the chlorination.

In a no-deal Brexit, importing chlorinated chicken becomes both possible and more likely. Unfortunately, the prospect of no deal is higher than it has been for a while, with the Tory leadership contest being led by hard Brexiters. Those same Brexiters are keen for a quick deal with their friend President Trump and that would almost certainly require lowering food standards – Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, said as much in 2017.

None of this was talked about in 2016. The UK public weren’t asked if they wanted chlorine chicken on their plates. Now we know more about the consequences of Brexit, the people deserve the final say on whether we’re force fed this grim future. And if they don’t, they’ve got every right to tell pro-Brexit politicians to cluck off.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

4 Responses to “Staying in EU means US chlorinated chicken can cluck off”

  • You forgot to mention “pink slime” (lean finely textured beef) which is processed using ammonia and is banned in the EU. Pink slime even has its own Wikipedia page!

  • I assume the US farming practices are designed to undercut their competitors in price. That would presumably put UK food producers under pressure to reduce standards. And that may make it more difficult to export into the EU marketplace, which applies higher standards.
    So not only would the opening up of the UK market be detrimental to public health, it would also cause serious damage to the indigenous farming sector.

  • Alex,
    This has been pointed out to them of course. On the face of it they are happy to see prices driven down to the lowest common denominator, and if some go out of business that’s just tough. Standards would be at real risk of being driven down as a consequence. It’s a case of pretty much anything is worth throwing out to get their way.

  • Andy Harley; well said. Just checked pink slime out on the web. It’s off cuts that are separated from their fat-content and then more or less pulverised. After initial restrictions on use for human consumption it may at present once more be added as an addition to ground beef that is sold as hamburger in the US (in UK-English minced meat).
    Dear oh dear, what an enrichment to the UK food market to look forward to after October. Incidentally, In the US I never had the experience of eating roast chicken the way it is normal in Europe, the bird on the bone without any covering. At all time the chicken was de-boned and covered in more or less strongly spiced batter coatings; a la Captain Bird’s Eye. Could that in the USA be to hide any chlorine flavour?
    On Dutch TV recently a programme was shown concerning the levels of humane methods and production hygiene used on US chickens being prepared for the human food market. Pretty grim, I assure you and leading to some scathing articles in the media and questions addressed at me as someone living in the UK. Why anyone in his right mind would want to expose him or herself to that sort of third world kind of food production and the accompanying health risks. Certainly with healthcare being taken out of the average citizen’s reach if we may believe the present UK-US talks on the world post-brexit.