It was never going to be too long before another food scare hit the headlines and it’s now the turn of the humble chicken or, more specifically, the humble, chlorinated chicken. With the Brexit process underway, trade deals are being pursued with a number of countries, one of the most sought after being the US. A major coup by any standard but alarm bells have been sounding in the press over potential chicken imports because of their method of supplying chicken to consumers, leaving the end product with a considerable level of chlorine.
Although we share a common language with our American friends, we do not share the same food safety processes. In the UK, there is a strict procedure throughout the whole rearing process of animals which seeks to eliminate bacteria at every stage, right through to the end product. With chicken, stringent processes and protocols are in place from the incubator, the rearing sheds on farms and the abattoirs, through to preparation for point of sale.
This differs from the method they tend to use in the US which bypasses the various stages at which hygiene processes could be implemented and, instead, a chlorine wash of the end product is carried out to eradicate any bacteria on the meat to ensure it is safe to eat. The US claims that this method kills off bugs and, particularly, salmonella. These imports are currently banned by the EU as EU law stipulates that nothing but water should be used to clean meat that is being prepared for sale.
Interestingly, although banned, it has not been deemed unsafe or unfit for consumption. The European Food Safety Authority has declared that there is no serious concern over the use of chlorine and other chemical washes in poultry and its subsequent consumption by the public. The British Poultry Council concurs with this, as do scientific studies conducted by various American agencies. In a nation that is as litigious as the US, it is unlikely an unsafe product would be so widely available. It is also worth noting that low levels of chlorine have been added to our drinking water in the UK for years, the first case of chlorine water treatment being in the town of Maidstone, Kent in 1897. Chlorine is also used in most pre-prepared fruit, vegetables and salads we purchase in our supermarkets.
The bigger concern is the disparity in the breeding and rearing hygiene processes between US and UK farmers which lead to the point of sale product. This could impact UK farmers negatively and undermine all the work that has already been done to develop safe processes throughout the slaughter procedure and it is important to maintain and to continue to develop the high standard of hygiene to which UK farmers adhere.
To date, large numbers of our politicians are not backing down and are refusing to accept chlorinated chicken as part of a trade deal. Their resolve might not hold, however, and, if a trade deal is sealed with the US and chlorinated chicken makes its way onto our shelves, as one MP says, it will be down to us, as consumers, to decide.