Chlo­ri­nated chicken? I would eat it

Birmingham Post - - FRONT PAGE - Jonathan Walker

IMAG­INE if politi­cians at­tacked plans for a trade deal with Spain on the grounds that the Span­ish would force us to eat their dirty chick­ens.

They’d be ac­cused of all xeno­pho­bia, racism or worse.

But there are no reser­va­tions when it comes to at­tack­ing Amer­ica.

Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox has come un­der fire for ap­par­ently sug­gest­ing that a trade deal with the United States could al­low Amer­i­cans to sell us chicken which has been washed in chlo­rine, some­thing which is banned un­der EU rules.

He hasn’t ac­tu­ally said this would hap­pen.

He called the is­sue of chlo­ri­nated chicken “a de­tail of the very end stage of one sec­tor of a po­ten­tial free trade agree­ment”.

But it’s fair to say he hasn’t ac­tu­ally ruled it out either. And that’s been enough to spark an out­cry.

Wash­ing a chicken in chlo­rine does sound dis­gust­ing. Af­ter all, we have chlo­rine in swim­ming pools and it tastes funny.

But then again, we also have chlo­rine in our wa­ter sup­ply. It comes out of the taps in your home. It’s in cups of tea, and the orange squash drunk by chil­dren across the coun­try.

If you’ve ever washed a car­rot in your kitchen – or in­deed a chicken – you’ve washed them in chlo­rine.

The Drink­ing Wa­ter In­spec­torate, the govern­ment body which mon­i­tors the safety of our wa­ter sup­plies, ex­plains in a leaflet : “Wa­ter is safe when it leaves the treat­ment works and the trace of chlo­rine is there only to pre­serve the high qual­ity of the wa­ter as it passes through the miles of pipes used to con­vey wa­ter to homes and work­places.

“Chlo­rine has a long his­tory of about 100 years of safe use for hy­giene pur­poses world­wide.”

There’s only a lit­tle bit of chlo­rine in our wa­ter sup­ply. But it’s also safe in higher con­cen­tra­tions – which is why it’s used to clean baby bot­tles.

The in­spec­torate ex­plains: “Chlo­rine is the most widely used dis­in­fec­tant in the home. It is also dis­in­fec­tant used by the wa­ter in­dus­try to main­tain hy­gienic con­di­tions within the pub­lic wa­ter sup­ply net­work of pipes. At the very low lev­els used in drink­ing wa­ter it is per­fectly safe.

“Much higher con­cen­tra­tions are rou­tinely used safely for other pur­poses such as ster­ilis­ers for baby feed­ing bot­tles and by the leisure and health care in­dus­try in spas, hy­drother­apy pools and swim­ming pools.”

So it’s safe. You’re not go­ing to get ill eat­ing a chicken washed in the same stuff that comes out of your own shower. The only prob­lem with chlo­rine, the in­spec­torate makes clear, is that “some peo­ple can be very sen­si­tive to its taste and smell”.

Well, that cer­tainly sounds alarm­ing, as I like eat­ing chicken. I’m not sure if Amer­i­can chick­ens do taste or smell funny (pre­sum­ably not, as Amer­i­cans seem to like them), but I feel fairly con­fi­dent that our su­per­mar­kets will con­tinue to sell us chicken that tastes good.

I mean I could per­haps be­lieve that big busi­ness would sell us prod­ucts pro­duced in sweat­shops given half the chance or even maybe some­thing that they know is slowly poi­son­ing us. But even at my most cyn­i­cal, it’s hard to see why su­per­mar­kets would in­sist on at­tempt­ing to sell food which their cus­tomers don’t en­joy eat­ing.

Per­haps it’s worth stress­ing again that the govern­ment hasn’t ac­tu­ally pro­posed re­lax­ing the rules on chicken wash­ing.

The plan at the mo­ment is to bring all the EU rules into UK law, although it would then be­come pos­si­ble to re­peal them over time if Par­lia­ment chooses to do so.

That hasn’t stopped peo­ple get­ting an­gry.

Barry Gar­diner MP, Labour’s Shadow Sec­re­tary of State for In­ter­na­tional Trade, said: “By ar­gu­ing the case for chlo­rinewashed chicken, Liam Fox shows he is ready to aban­don Bri­tish poul­try farm­ers in favour of cheap US im­ports that do not meet our san­i­tary or an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards.”

Lib­eral Demo­crat MP and for­mer leader Tim Far­ron said: “This is a be­trayal of Bri­tish poul­try farm­ers who cur­rently work to the high­est stan­dards in the world. Liam Fox’s dan­ger­ous grov­el­ling to the US is only go­ing to see his chick­ens come home to roost.”

Clearly we all want Bri­tish farm­ers to be suc­cess­ful. How­ever, any free trade deal in­volves al­low­ing for­eign pro­duc­ers, such as chicken farm­ers, to try to sell their prod­ucts in our coun­try, while our own pro­duc­ers have a chance to do the same thing over there.

Labour and the Lib Dems, and the Con­ser­va­tives for that mat­ter, say they are fully in favour of free trade with Europe, which in­cludes trade in chick­ens and other food. In fact, they ar­gue about which party has the best plan for al­low­ing free and fric­tion­less trade to con­tinue once we leave the EU.

When it comes to the US, how­ever, it seems trade is scary and wrong.

Why? Good old fash­ioned Bri­tish snob­bery about the Yanks is why.

Chlo­rine has a long his­tory of about 100 years of safe use for hy­giene pur­poses world­wide

> It is hard to see why su­per­mar­kets would in­sist on sell­ing chicken which their cus­tomers don’t en­joy

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