Does Chlorinated Chicken Affect the Environment?
Aug 26 2017
With Brexit looming on the horizon and the UK reportedly negotiating a “very big and exciting deal” (the words of President Trump) with the USA, hackles have been bristling in the UK about the possibility of chlorinated chicken entering our market.
The US has famously laxer standards when it comes to food regulation than the EU, which could entail the UK welcoming such produce into its supermarkets in the wake of separation from Europe. But what consequences will this have on the consumer, the industry and the environment in general?
What is chlorinated chicken?
For those unfamiliar with the term, chlorinated chicken refers to poultry which has been sprayed or immersed in a chlorine dioxide solution in order to sterilise it after slaughter but before packaging. Theoretically, it should eliminate any surviving bacteria such as Salmonella and e-coli, though recent investigations have cast aspersions on its efficacy.
A 2014 report found that despite the widespread adoption of chlorination in the US, 97% of chicken samples that were tested throughout the States still contained harmful bacteria, including the aforementioned strains. By contrast, a 2015 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded that Salmonella typhi and Salmonella paratyphi were 400% and 500% more common in the States, though it did not venture any explanations as to why this might be.
How will chlorinated chicken affect the environment?
Allowing chlorinated chicken into the EU was rejected by all 27 members of the EU – with the notable exception of the UK, which claimed it needed more time to analyse the facts before making a decision. At the time, the reason given for the rejection was that treating chicken with chlorine dioxide “can pose a risk to the aquatic environment, the health of staff working in waste water systems and the operation and performance of sewerage systems and/or wastewater treatment plants”.
However, it should be noted that chlorate is already used in many agricultural practices in the EU, such as irrigating and washing crops, processing foodstuffs and sterilising work surfaces in factories and plants. Therefore, adherents of the practice say that allowing chlorinated chicken into the UK – as long as levels of chlorine dioxide and chlorite are adequately monitored – will not endanger the environment any more than at present but will bring down prices.
Is it likely to happen?
Concerns about methane emissions from agriculture and dairy farming are already rife in the UK, so further compromises to the environment from chlorinated chicken will likely lead to a backlash from critics of the practice.
Despite this, and despite Environment Secretary Michael Gove's recent assertion that chlorinated chicken represented “a red line” in talks with the US, it seems unlikely that the UK’s 65 million market will be able to prevail where the EU’s 510 million market did not. As such, the prospect of chlorinated chicken on the shelves of our supermarket could be a reality whether we like or not.
Even more concerning, this could prove to be the thin end of a wedge regarding food regulation practices. The US already allows the sale of unlabelled GM foods and the injection of growth hormones into its cattle, so caving in on this issue could open the floodgates with regards to similar ideas in the future.
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