Chlorinated chicken? I would eat it
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