We hear a lot in the news at the moment about chlorinated chicken and the possibility of it appearing on our supermarket shelves in a potential trade deal with the US. But what is chlorinated chicken exactly and should we be worried about it?
In the US, once the chickens have been slaughtered and gutted, they are examined and then undergo a final chemical washing process to remove any harmful bacteria. This process can also be known as Pathogen Reduction Treatments (PRTs).
Is UK chicken chlorinated?
No, in the UK we take a more proactive approach to food safety which means it is not necessary to wash our chicken with chlorine. Higher environmental standards mandated by the EU during the production process eliminate the need to chemically rinse chicken before we eat it.
Why is chlorinated chicken Banned in the EU?
The problem the EU has with chlorinated chicken is that antimicrobial treatments can be used to compensate for poor hygiene along the supply chain, particularly on farms for example.
Ever since 1997, member states of the EU have refused to accept imports of chlorine-treated poultry and this has been a point of contention with the US. The EU maintains that chemical washes are a form of quick-fix covering up for lower treatment standards, including lower animal welfare standards.
What chicken processing is permitted by EU standards?
Under EU regulations, processors can only use cold air and water to decontaminate poultry carcases. The ‘farm to fork’ principle of the EU aims at ensuring higher hygiene standards across all stages of production, rather than a particular disinfection method at the end of the process.
How safe is chlorinated chicken?
Some might argue that it’s not surprising to hear that US regulators are unequivocal in their verdict that chlorinated chicken is perfectly safe. They point out that the EU approves of the same methods to wash fruit and veg.
In fact, the European Food Safety Regulator examined the use of chlorine treatment and agreed with the USDA, that “chemical substances in poultry are unlikely to pose an immediate or acute health risk for consumers.”
But that’s not really the issue. Chlorine washes and sprays used in the US do help manage pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter and protect consumers from infections. But the EU argues that potentially poorer hygiene standards elsewhere in the process are a health concern and that the chlorine wash could simply be used as a whitewash, covering up for lower production standards on the whole.
What does the UK poultry sector think?
The British Poultry Council is opposed to the notion of importing American chicken. Chief executive, Richard Griffiths rejects the idea of importing chlorine-washed chickens as part of a trade agreement with the US.
“We are proud to produce wholesome, nutritious and affordable food for the UK population. We also know that British consumers trust nothing other than British chicken,” he says.
“The UK poultry meat industry stands committed to feeding the nation with nutritious food and any compromise on standards will not be tolerated. A secure post-Brexit deal must be about Britain’s future food security and safety. This is a matter of our reputation on the global stage.”
What is RSPCA Assured's stance on chlorinated chicken?
We fully understand why people would be concerned about the idea that chlorinated chicken could one day find its way onto dinner tables in the UK. Chlorine-washed chicken does not pose a health risk in itself, but by accepting it, along with imported chicken from the US, we could also be condoning lower farm animal welfare standards in the UK.
Why is American chicken chlorinated?
“The reason US farmers [use chlorine washing] is because their animals are raised in such cramped conditions that the only way to stop them becoming diseased is to dunk them in chlorine,” he said. “It’s really an animal welfare issue here. If UK farmers want to compete against American imports they’ll have to lower standards or go out of business.” - Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now warning on the implications of the UK doing a trade deal with the US.
RSPCA Assured believes in maintaining the higher animal welfare standards we’ve established in the UK. We agree with the EU that the surest way to fight salmonella and other bacteria in foods is through higher welfare standards maintained from farm to fork. While we don’t have any chlorinated chicken in the UK at the moment, the best way to support British farmers, now and in the future, and to be sure you are buying higher welfare meat, fish and dairy is to look for the RSPCA Assured logo when you shop.