UK told to accept US food standards, including chlorination and GM, in any trade deal

Head of US farming lobby says fears over genetic modification and chlorinated chickens are not based on science. But reality is more complicated

Olesya Dmitracova
Economics and Business Editor
Friday 16 August 2019 12:07
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Dispatches programme on chlorinated chicken in the US

If Britain wants a trade deal with the US, it must accept American food standards, including those allowing genetic modification and chicken to be washed in chlorine, the head of America’s farming lobby has said.

Both of those practices are controversial in the UK. Washing chicken carcasses in chlorinated water to kill off harmful bacteria is banned in the EU. And unlike the US, the EU has also not approved any fresh genetically modified (GM) fruit or vegetables for human consumption.

But Zippy Duvall, head of the American Farm Bureau, said concerns over the practices are not “science-based”.

“There is no scientific basis that says that washing poultry with a chlorine wash, just to be safe of whatever pathogens might be on that chicken as it was prepared for the market, should be taken away,” Mr Duvall, a poultry farmer in Georgia, told BBC Radio 4.

“If there was something wrong with it, our federal inspection systems would not be allowing us to use that.”

Both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the British Poultry Council have said eating meat treated in that way is safe.

However, the EFSA opposes chlorine rinsing because it enables farmers to lower their standards of animal welfare and hygiene as they can simply use a chemical bath to kill off any harmful pathogens after animals are slaughtered.

The EU takes what it calls an integrated approach to food safety, “from farm to fork covering all sectors of the food chain”. As part of that approach, there are minimum legal requirements for the amount of space, lighting and ventilation in EU poultry-rearing houses.

As there are no laws governing this in the US, the birds can be crammed in tightly, according to Simon Dawson, a food safety expert at Cardiff Metropolitan University. This reduces production costs but increases the risks of disease and contamination in a flock.

“Some US abattoirs and processing plants rely heavily on chlorination because their other hygiene standards are so poor that they would be illegal in Europe,” Mr Dawson wrote in 2017.

“The process is also very good at removing odours and surface slime, meaning the meat can be passed off as fresh for much longer than it should be.”

The EU is less strict on GM food, allowing some such products to be sold provided the EFSA has deemed them safe and they are labelled as GM.

The World Health Organisation says it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM crops, and that each food should be assessed separately.

Earlier this week, Donald Trump’s national security adviser said the UK will be “first in line” for a trade deal with the US after Brexit.

John Bolton suggested that the US could focus on striking bilateral trade deals in certain sectors like manufacturing and car-making and work out more complicated areas later.

According to Mr Duvall, though, any trade agreement would have to include agriculture.

“To have a trade treaty and not discuss agriculture would be turning your back on rural America and that’s where a big part of our population lives,” he said.

A government spokesperson said: Any future deal with the US must work for UK consumers, farmers and companies.

“We have been clear on numerous occasions that we will not compromise on our high food or animal welfare standards as part of any trade deals.”

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