U.S. Is Trying to Boost British Appetite for Chlorinated Chicken

CC BY 2.0. USDA -- A poultry farm in the United States

The problem is, it's not just about the presence of chlorine, but rather why the chlorine is needed in the first place.

American poultry farmers have high hopes for Brexit. They are expecting exports to surge once the UK is free to sign new trade agreements with the United States following its departure from the European Union, but British citizens aren't so confident. There is ongoing controversy over the issue of 'chlorinated chicken,' a descriptor that Modern Farmer says has "become a shorthand for the excesses of American agribusiness," and the Brits want none of it.

They don't like the way in which U.S. farmers wash chicken carcasses in a chlorine solution to cleanse them of salmonella and listeria. This practice hasn't been allowed in the EU since 1997, but is relied on heavily in the U.S. to ensure chicken is safe for consumption. Allowing American chicken into British supermarkets is thus perceived as an erosion of agricultural standards, which is a fair assessment.

The U.S. is so desperate to change British perceptions that the government is funding a $100,000 press junket for "influential UK journalists and activists" to tour American poultry farms and government agencies that oversee food safety. No doubt the farms on this tour will be selected with great care to hide the real reasons why chlorine-dousing is necessary – that U.S. chickens are typically raised in abysmal living conditions that breed disease.

Dan Nosowitz wrote for Modern Farmer,

"Essentially, the EU’s objection to the method is that it is a sledgehammer method used to cover up the atrocities in much of the American poultry industry: tiny spaces, wildly overbred birds that have difficulty standing up, and mass production that results in heavily soiled, contaminated birds. Chlorine, by the EU’s way of thinking, encourages such bad behavior. After all, why bother to treat your birds well, when it’s expensive and can all be cleaned off by a 50-parts-per-million chlorine solution?"

Indeed, the UK's former chief scientific advisor at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Sir Ian Boyd, told Sky News that living conditions are what Britons should really be worried about, not so much the chlorine: "From a health perspective there really isn't a problem with chlorinated chicken. The issue is about production processes and animal welfare, and that is a values-based choice that people need to make."

There is plenty wrong with UK poultry farms, too. I reported before on doctored expiry dates, the mixing of old and new chicken pieces in the same package, and chicken being picked up off factory floors and packaged for sale. But the fact that chlorine-dousing is not allowed does incentivize farmers to do a better job at keeping their animals clean, and that is not something to throw away in the interest of saving a few bucks (or pounds).