I’m an American who lives in Britain. Trust me, the last thing we need is chlorinated chicken

US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, accused the EU of prioritising ‘history and tradition over innovation and science’. Perhaps, but at least we have high food standards

Julia Platt Leonard
Sunday 03 March 2019 16:54 GMT
Michael Gove defends lack of post-Brexit protection against chlorinated chicken in agriculture bill

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


After over 20 years living in Britain, there are still things I miss from the US. I still dream of Vidalia onions from Georgia that are so sweet, I’d happily peel them and munch them raw, like an apple.

Or a peach from Dixon, New Mexico that’s so ripe, the juice runs down my chin in rivulets.

Sweetcorn from southern Colorado that’s so tender, so just-picked, that I can shuck it and eat it without ever cooking it.

These are things I long for. But I don’t miss chicken for the simple reason that it doesn’t taste like chicken, rather like a plumped up, processed, protein.

Living in the UK, I’ve been spoiled. On Saturday I go to my local butcher and pick out a British bird that’s free range. On Sunday I rub it with fat and sprinkle it with salt and roast it until the skin is crisp and the flesh moist.

The next day, whatever is leftover is dinner and on the third day, the picked-over carcass goes into the pot and emerges as an admirable stock.

Now that, is a chicken.

US ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson would call it a museum exhibition. Writing in the Telegraph, he said that our current agricultural policies are outdated and unsustainable, especially if we’re committed to feeding a hungry planet. Calling the EU’s policies a “museum of agriculture”, he said: “The EU approach prizes history and tradition over innovation and science. In the United States, we look at the bigger picture.”

Adding that terms like “chlorinated chicken” and “hormone beef” are “inflammatory and misleading”, Johnson claims they’re “myths” and part of a “smear campaign”. I’d say that they’re honest statements about how food is produced in the US.

And it’s not simply whether chlorine is harmful to us; it’s what it says about the methods used to rear those animals. As a committed omnivore, I think we have a responsibility to say that the wellbeing of livestock matters. As consumers, I think we need to make a clear stand on what is and is not acceptable.

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I’m not alone. In a study conducted last year by the Institute for Public Policy Research, 82 per cent of the British public said they were unwilling to lower food standards in order to secure a trade deal with the US, and this was consistent for Leave and Remain supporters.

It’s not just chlorinated chickens either. Witnesses at the House of Commons International Trade Committee talked about the use of growth hormones, lack of labelling of GM foods and the use of banned pesticides in the US. And if products coming in from the US aren’t properly labelled, then how will we as consumers know what we’re buying? How can we make a choice if that choice isn’t clear?

I’ve had the opportunity to speak to farmers in the UK and to see how they treat their livestock. Yes, they meet high standards because it’s the law, but also because for most of them it matters deeply.

Farming today is not for the faint of heart, whether it’s a family farmer hoping against hope that there will be something left to leave their children, or the rare optimist who scrapes and saves enough to build a farm from scratch.

They are smart, they are hardworking and they deserve our support – and that means standing up and saying that US livestock “standards” are not ours.

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