UK farming leaders have recently hit back on the government over the importation of chlorinated chicken from the US. UK association of farmers National Farmers Union (NFU) president Minette Batters said via British daily newspaper The Guardian that it is an “outrageous betrayal of the British people and deeply worrying for our farmers.”
While the country’s environment secretary George Eustice has stressed that chlorine-washed chicken is currently illegal in the country and that they are committed to maintaining high standards, he has refused to give a guarantee that they will not allow such a farming method as a part of their trade deal with the US.
Chlorine-washed chicken importation
Eustice has likewise hinted at the possibility of expanding a scheme that will enable farmers to hire low-paid workers from other countries to harvest their crops next year. The former secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs Theresa Villiers told the farmers in January that hormone-treated beef and chlorinated chicken would be excluded in the trade talk, emphasizing that the “legal barriers to their import” will remain in place. However, the government has refused to protect the promises of Villiers in a UK agricultural bill and she was removed from the cabinet when Prime Minister Boris Johnson reshuffled his team. In her Facebook post, she said, “What the prime minister giveth, the prime minster taketh away.” Although she emphasized being grateful for the opportunity to serve in the government, she wished that the new cabinet will do well in the “tasks ahead of them.”
Over the weekend, the new environment secretary Eustice declined to repeat the assurances given by Villiers and this infuriated farmers. UK farmers fear that they will be facing a flood of cheap food imports that will undercut the high-standards maintain by the British produce. They also fear that if food standards will be relaxed, there is a potential that the EU will ban UK-produced foods.
Why farmers consider it a “morally bankrupt” move
Batters went on to say that signing up the trade deal that will result in opening our fridges, shelves, and ports to food that are illegal to produce in the UK is not only morally bankrupt. She emphasized that it is not just about chlorine-washed chicken but a “wider principle.”
In a separate report published by BBC, it shared that the purpose of washing chicken with chlorine and other disinfectants is to remove the harmful bacteria. Yet, this practice has already been banned in the European Union since 1997 because of food safety concerns. The ban stopped the imports of chicken meat from the US if they are treated in that process. Although the European Food Safety Authority has previously announced that being exposed to chlorite residues arising from poultry carcasses is of “no safety concern,” the EU still believes that such a process could be relied on as a way to compensate for poor hygiene, like crowded or dirty abattoirs.
EU further said that the best method to eliminate the risk of bacteria, such as salmonella, is to maintain high production and farming standards. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shared in 2019 that the multi-country outbreak of Salmonella in the United Kingdom affected nearly 200 people. Salmonella is a bacterium that occurs mainly in the intestinal tract and is one of the most frequently reported causes of food-related illness. Public Health England’s national laboratory data for residents of England and Wales also showed their laboratory report of non-typhoidal Salmonella per 100,000 population in the following years: 2007 (22.24), 2008 (18.82), 2009 (17.17), 2010 (15.39), 2011 (15.12), 2012 (14.00), 2013 (13.16), 2014 (12.63), 2015 (14.78), and 2016 (14.78). Salmonella remains 1 of the 4 key global causes of diarrheal diseases, according to the World Health Organization.
Using lactic acid instead of chlorine
Although Eustice said via The Guardian that US farmers are now using lactic acid in washing chicken instead of chlorine, it still does not reassure the campaigners who objected to the process of chlorination in the produce. They believe that the practice still allows farmers to keep the chicken in unsanitary conditions while they are alive.
Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard has also mentioned how chlorine-washed chicken could be a “genuine risk.”
The use of antibiotics on livestock is also covered with strict guidelines in the UK. Batters said that in other countries, like Malaysia, India, Brazil, Canada, China, Australia, and Japan, the use of antibiotics in the farm is used for purposes of growth production but such is not the case for chlorinated chicken. Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, published that antibiotic use in livestock in the UK for animal health and productivity was set at 51.10 mg/population-corrected unit (PCU) in 2011, 66.00 mg/PCU in 2012, 62.10 mg in 2013 to 2014, 56.70 mg in 2015, and 45.00 mg in 2016.
UK poultry and poultry meat: statistics
UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs shared that the total UK poultry meat production in 2018 was 140.6 thousand tonnes, up 0.4% compared to its 2017 data. UK broiler slaughtering was also up 4.9% at 2.0 million birds. Turkey chick placings were up by 4.6% at 0.8 chicks. The UK broiler chick places declined by 2.6% at 82.8 million chicks and the UK commercial layer chick places up 14% to 3.1 million chicks.
Worldwide, there were some 23.7 billion chickens available in the world, up from 22.8 billion in 2017. Database company Statista likewise detailed the global number of chickens in the following years: 1990 (10.6 billion), 2000 (14.3 billion), 2006 (17.6 billion), 2007 (18.4 billion), 2008 (19.05 billion), 2009 (19.9 billion), 2010 (20.3 billion), 2011 (20.8 billion), 2012 (21.8 billion), 2013 (20.8 billion), 2014 (21.3 billion), 2015 (22.1 billion), 2016 (22.7 billion), and 2017 (22.8 billion).
Our World in Data also said that the UK had some 169.77 million poultry birds in 2000 and this increased to 184.35 million in 2018. Countries with the highest number of poultry birds in 2018 include Indonesia (2.44 billion birds), Brazil (1.51 billion), United States (2.23 billion), Iran (1.08 billion), China (6.38 billion), India (820.73 million), Pakistan (527.98 million), Russia (541.57 million), Canada (178.1 million), and Mexico (580.65 million).
UK poultry producers have raised a good point about why they don’t want to take shortcuts in producing their food. The government, which is in control of how they feed themselves as a nation, should do its part in making sure that their products will maintain high standards for the people.