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Invasion of the chlorine-washed chickens?

Apr 20

Written by:
20/04/2017 11:52  RssIcon

Thanks to Brexit, the EU’s food safety laws could be binned says Simon Birch.

People who voted to leave the EU may have believed that they were ‘taking back control’, but it’s doubtful that they envisaged that their Sunday roast chicken could end up being doused in chlorine too.


Image: Chicken

Now that the negotiations for Brexit have begun, one of the many potential consequences is that EU laws that have (just about) kept the food on our supermarket shelves safe and sound could become a thing of the past.

There’s increasing concern among food campaigners that in the rush to secure a much-needed post-Brexit trade deal with the US, our food standard laws will be brushed aside and allow the likes of chlorine-washed chicken to flood into the UK, something which is currently banned right across the EU.

Long held up as a totemic symbol by European food campaigners of all that’s wrong with American industrialised food production, washing chicken in a chlorine solution to eliminate bacteria is a practice that’s alive and well in the US.

Supermarket silence

However, the results of a survey, carried out earlier in 2017 by the online news service BuzzFeed, served only to heighten fears that the UK’s supermarket shelves could soon be filled with chicken à la chlorine in the event of our food safety laws being binned.

In the survey, the UK’s biggest supermarkets were asked if they would ban chlorine-washed chicken in the future.

The only supermarkets to confirm that they would maintain the ban on chlorine-washed chicken were Asda, Tesco and Waitrose. Alarmingly Aldi, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s either didn’t reply to the survey or declined to comment.

US trade deal

The biggest US farm lobby group told BuzzFeed that it viewed post-Brexit Britain as an ‘opportunity’ for food that’s currently banned under EU law. 

Many now fear that the UK could face a ‘race to the bottom’ on food standards in post-Brexit Britain unless Theresa May acts to commit to maintaining current regulations that ban a wide range of dodgy American food practices from the UK.


Samuel Lowe, a campaigner from Friends of the Earth:

“There’s a real risk that in its rush to sign a headline-grabbing UK-Trump deal as quickly as possible, the government will be forced into concessions it would never normally make."

“Trump knows this, that’s why he’s interested.”

So, apart from chlorinated chicken, what other delightful treats can we expect to wing their way over from the US if the UK Government decides to open up our food markets and consign EU food safety laws to history?

Hormones, pesticides ...

In the US, synthetic hormones are considered safe and are routinely used to boost growth in dairy cows and intensively reared beef cattle.

Over here, the EU has a general ban on these body-building hormones because the European Food Safety Authority says there isn’t enough data to fully assess their potential human health risks. 

There are also almost 100 pesticides currently banned in the EU on health and environmental grounds whilst, in the US, farmers are free to use these same chemicals.

Food campaigner and writer Joanna Blythman finds this alarming:

“A US-UK trade deal opens the door to imports of American foods grown using these pesticides” .

“The US would probably also lean on the UK government to relax our EU-set ‘maximum residue levels’ for pesticides in food. Even people who boycotted US imported food would probably end up eating more residues in food because British growers would no longer have to control their spraying regimes to keep residues within EU limits.”

… And GM food

More worrying still is the threat of genetically modified food (GM food) finally being allowed into the UK from the US after being held at bay for many years, thanks to the EU.

In the EU, foods made using GM ingredients must be clearly labelled as such and consumers have shown repeatedly that they don’t want to buy them. 

Liz ONeill, Director of GM Freeze:

“EU legislation requires that GM foods are labelled as such but doesn’t extend that requirement to GM-fed products (such as eggs and fish)”. 

“It’s incredibly difficult for consumers to avoid GM without labelling and the millions spent to defeat GM labelling bills in the USA prove that big business understand that all too well.”

“Brands like Kellogg’s and Oreo currently sell their GM-free, EU-recipe products in the UK while using GM soya, maize and oil seed rape in the USA,” says O’Neil.

“Losing our labels would make it impossible for UK consumers to tell the difference.” 


Follow Simon Birch on Twitter: @SimonBirchSays



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