Chlorine washed chicken

Chlorine washed chicken from the US: trade secretary Liam Fox says he sees no issue with it

International trade secretary Liam Fox has reopened the debate surrounding the government’s policy on chlorinated chicken imports during questioning by the International Trade Committee.

Answering queries on concerns about a post-Brexit agricultural trade deal with the US yesterday, Fox said he saw no issue with the British public consuming chlorinated chicken as long as it was proven safe.

“There are no health reasons why we couldn’t eat chicken that has been washed in chlorinated water,” said Fox when asked if there was anything wrong with the practice. “Most of the salads in our supermarkets are rinsed in chlorinated water.”

US poultry is treated in a chlorine wash to reduce contamination with pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter, a process banned in the EU. Fox defended the practice by highlighting the high levels of campylobacter found on chicken in Europe. The latest FSA survey published last month showed 54% of 3,980 chicken samples from across the UK’s retail market taken from August 2016 to July 2017 tested positive for the bacteria.

“In general the US has much lower levels of campylobacter food poisoning than most countries in Europe,” he said.

His comments come months after environment secretary Michael Gove ruled out the prospect of chlorinated chicken imports. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme in July, Gove insisted the government would not “dilute our high animal welfare standards, or our environmental standards, in pursuit of any trade deal”.

The British Poultry Council has echoed Gove’s comments, with CEO Richard Griffiths warning any compromise on standards “will not be tolerated”.

Although it is widely accepted there are no safety concerns with the process of chlorine washing itself, there are fears opening UK borders to US imports of chlorine-washed chicken, which are often produced to lower welfare standards, would put UK producers at a competitive disadvantage. An AHDB report published by the House of Lords warned such a move would create an “unequal playing field”.

Speaking to the House of Commons committee yesterday, Fox conceded that parliamentary opinion was against allowing such imports and public opinion was likely to take on a more active role in future trade deals than they had in the past.

“It would be a waste of time and effort to try to get an agreement on things that we couldn’t either sell to parliament or to the public. Safety standards, environmental standards, workers’ rights and ethical production will all be issues that the public takes a much stronger view on.”