Chlorinated chicken – what’s the big deal?

Chlorinated chicken is a term used to describe chicken that has been dipped or washed in water that contains chlorine dioxide, prior to being packaged. The process is used widely in the United States as a way of killing potentially harmful organisms.

So is US chicken safer than ours?

Not at all. The process is banned in the EU, yet our food hygiene is the same or better than those in the US. In fact a World Health Organisation study in 2015 concluded that the incidence of Salmonella were four to five times higher in the US than the EU. And our chicken is only allowed to be washed in water.

How come our chicken is safer whilst only being washed in water?

hen and chicks
Happy hen and chicks

The higher standards of hygiene and animal welfare provided by our farmers must take the credit for this. Rather than relying on a chemical wash to produce clean chicken, our farmers focus on producing healthy chickens in the cleanest and most welfare friendly way possible.

So if US chicken is no safer, why do they still produce chlorinated chicken?

Price, this appears to be the only reason. Chicken in the US costs approximately 21% less per kilo than in the UK. I don’t know about you, but I would definitely rather pay a bit more in the knowledge that the welfare and hygiene standards during production were as high as possible.

Is chlorine dioxide harmful?

There is much debate about this, a European Food Safety Authority Report claimed in 2005 that poultry washed with chlorine dioxide ‘would be of no safety concern’. However in 2015 the same Authority added that there was a potential health concern for children, but taking the average consumption of chicken into account there would be no safety concern.

Even so, in 2008 a proposal to allow the use of chlorine dioxide for washing chicken was rejected once again in the EU due to the potential to “lead to the formation of chloro organic compounds, several of which are persistent, bioaccumulate or carcinogenic”

So there is some thought that the compounds could build up in the body a little at a time and also potentially be cancer causing. There is also some belief that the reliance on chemical use in the US rather than the better farming practices in the UK is playing a part in antibiotic resistance.

Just the tip of the iceberg?

cattle ranch
cattle ranch

This is the problem with free trade deals. They will only work if the food being imported has been produced to the same or higher welfare standards than our own. The US, in this instance, can produce chicken cheaper than us due to a reliance on chemicals rather than good farming practice.

They can also produce beef cheaper than us, partly due to the fact the use of man made growth hormones are still allowed in the US, but banned – rightly so – in the UK, the cloning of animals etc. We also have strict labelling laws in the UK, but the US can produce genetically modified foods without declaring the fact on labels.

It must be made completely clear that any foods purchased in the UK has been produced to a common standard, regardless of the country of origin and clearly labelled as such. The government must make this clear to all potential trading countries.

The UK has built up a global reputation for quality food production and animal welfare, this is the key point to be made by the government when arranging trade deals. Our produce must command a fair price and not be undercut by cheaper imports not meeting our clearly set standards.

So how do we sell a more expensive product to the US?

We promote our higher welfare standards, the better farming practices, make it clear that what we produce is a high quality product which provides great value for money. Those that wish to buy a product based on price is fine, these are not the consumers we should be aiming at. It is like the popularity in farm shops across the country, people are willing to pay a slightly higher price for a higher quality product.

It is just the same across all areas of retail, you have Matalan and designer shops, small cheap cars like Suzuki and expensive cars like Mercedes. They are not fighting for the same customers. In this instance, our agricultural produce is like the Mercedes, quality, and potential customers are willing to pay for it.

What do you think?

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