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Get over ‘fear’ of chlorinated chicken, US tells UK, as RSPCA warns eggs from battery hens may return to supermarkets

‘This is not a food safety issue, it’s an animal welfare issue’, charity says

Vincent Wood
Friday 31 January 2020 00:44 GMT
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo meets with Boris Johnson at Number 10

America’s agriculture secretary has urged Britain to move past “the political science of fear” over products like chlorine-washed chicken, as an animal welfare group warned a Brexit trade deal with the US could see eggs from battery hens return to UK supermarkets.

US politicians have long maintained Britain should welcome a deal that could see the market flooded with cheaper produce – including controversial products like chlorinated chicken and hormone-loaded beef.

Now the Trump administration’s top official for farming has said it is time for decisions to be made based on “sound science” not “the political science of fear”.

While insisting that his nation will not force Europe to lower its food standards, Sonny Perdue, the secretary for agriculture, said: “Both the EU, the UK and the United States benefit when we have free and reciprocal trade, and that’s really what our objective is – is to come to a conclusion where we can accept one anothers’ products freely based on sound scientific standards rather than inordinate fears.

“All we are asking from the United States is that we make sound food decisions for the future based on sound science that we can all agree upon rather than the political science of fear. I think we need to trade based on sound science and safety and health and nutrition.”

He is the US official to attempt to allay concerns over American food practices after public outcry over the possibility of chlorine-washed chicken becoming the norm in Britain.

Last week ambassador Woody Johnson said the poultry should “absolutely be included” in a trade deal, and on Thursday.Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, said US farmers would demand meat produced to lower standards be included in an agreement. Food standards were being used as “a ruse to try and protect a particular industry”, Mr Pompeo said.

However, the RSPCA has warned that allowing the US unfettered access to the UK food market could lead to barbaric animal welfare practices returning to British supermarket shelves – including battery caged chickens and pigs trapped in confined sow stalls which have been ruled illegal in the UK.

While caged hens in the UK are allocated an average of 750 sq cm each in so-called enriched cages – which have litter, perches and dark spaces for laying - US battery hens may get only a little more than half that size.

Sow stalls which stop pigs from being able to turn around were completely outlawed in Britain in 1999 but remain widespread across the pond.

It is feared allowing the cheaper produce could leave farmers to choose between abandoning safe farming practices or finding themselves uncompetitive.

The RSPCA’s head of public affairs, David Bowles, told The Independent: “They want us to take their eggs, their chicken and their pigs, which are obviously produced in conditions which are illegal here – but also, more importantly, are cheaper to produce because the more animals you get in a smaller space, the cheaper it is to produce a kilo of meat.

“That means that even with transportation costs, if you don’t have high tariffs, or you don’t allow or you don’t stop those imports, they will undercut UK producers and so you’ll essentially make your own farmers uncompetitive.”

Asked about Mr Pompeo’s claim that the UK was raising food safety as a “ruse” to protect farmers, Mr Bowles told The Independent: “He’s absolutely correct – this is not a food safety issue. It’s an animal welfare issue.”

He added: “The Americans eat chicken which is washed in chlorine, they eat beef which has been injected with hormones – and obviously they’re still alive. So it’s not a human food safety issue he’s absolutely right. It is an animal welfare issue – and the thing that Mike Pompeo hasn’t yet understood is that animal welfare is a very important consideration for the UK.

“We hope that it will be one of their main primary trade red lines when they go in and sit down with the USA. And we hope that they will not jettison our standards to allow in cheaper imports which are illegal in the UK.”

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