A perspective to offer:
The chlorinated chicken issue in US-UK trade relations
It is not so much the fact that chickens are washed in chlorine, but relying on a chlorine rinse at the end of the meat production process that might be a way of compensating for poor hygiene or over-crowding standards in the cycle.
The thought of chlorine on any food might be thought as something the British public will shy away from, though chlorine-rinsed bagged salads* are common in the UK. No one seems to complain about this aspect of the current British food market.
In a 2019 BBC article, the US ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson commented ‘the process [of chlorine-washed chicken] was used by EU farmers to treat vegetables, and that it was the best way to deal with salmonella and other bacteria’. A further example of the practice to ponder.
So, the negative thought of chlorinated chicken may be psychologically damaging to British consumer behaviour rather than any real threat. In another article, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed via Gallup research that ‘twice as many British people had heard negative news about food produced in the US as opposed to positive’.
How do you change these negative thoughts into positives in a reasonable time frame?
What may be more important is assurances about the quality of the food processing cycle and the quality of the meat produced, with low cost meat not being linked to poor hygiene food production. If these assurances can be given and certified by both UDSA & the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) standards, this will surely improve consumer confidence levels. It was also noted in the article that almost half of the poll responders (48%) are unaware of the USDA or its food safety programs. So, does this call for a communication and media campaign to address?
There is also another more important issue. Most products that are produced in the US are subject to mass production on a scale not possible in the UK. That lowers their price. So UK chicken production may not be competitive on a like-for-like basis with the US. That is an entirely different issue from whether we should import chlorinated chickens. Cost-wise the US has British agriculture beat except for our bespoke or luxury food products which can of course command a premium price.
Addressing the perception to find common ground
The chlorine-rinsed bagged salads are not referred to in the media as “Chlorine washed salads”, who would buy it? So, addressing the both the negative labeling [“Chlorinated chicken”] and the quality assurance could be the starting point.
In the future, would you buy competitively priced US chicken, food grade treated, and quality assured by both the USDA and in the UK by the FSA?
As we continue to see how US-UK trade relations develop and the reaction by the UK poultry industry, we shall watch on to see whether a common ground can be found for the potential benefits to all to import US Chicken.
Professor Krish Bhaskar
An author, speaker, and commentator. Active within the US Agricultural sector, from the policy and political standpoint, and Brexit and future US trade relations.