US defends chlorine-washed chicken amid backlash

By Aaron McDonald

- Last updated on GMT

The US and UK appear to be at loggerheads over chlorine-washed chicken
The US and UK appear to be at loggerheads over chlorine-washed chicken

Related tags: National chicken council, Food safety, International trade, Codex alimentarius, Poultry

Trade negotiations between the US and UK regarding poultry imports should be based on “sound science”, as opposed to politics and fearmongering. 

That was the message the National Chicken Council (NCC) of the US highlighted, as the UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, suggested the UK could import chicken from the US once the Brexit process has been completed.

This ignited concerns in the UK, as US chlorine-washed chicken isn’t considered to meet the same welfare standards as British produce. The UK’s British Poultry Council said a trade deal with the US would be a compromise, and a “secure post-Brexit deal must be about Britain’s future food security and safety​”.

However, the NCC argued that several US plants no longer used chlorinated water in their chilling systems and rinses. “The US is ready to use acceptable chlorine alternatives that would meet the requirements established by both the US and UK,​” Tom Super, vice-president of communications for the NCC told GlobalMeatNews.

Regardless, safe levels of chlorinated water, and several other antimicrobials, have been deemed to be safe and efficacious by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the US Department of Agriculture, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which sets international standards for food safety that are considered benchmark standards under the World Trade Organization system.​”

‘Safe levels’

Super cited a report from Mississippi State University, indicating that the use of chlorine does not pose any human health concerns.

He claimed that if chlorine was used in immersion chilling systems, it was used in parts per million and incorporated into several thousand gallons of water that were present, meaning it was significantly diluted. “Most chillers rarely exceed three to five parts per million when tested at the overflow,​” explained Super.

To put a part per million into perspective, it is equivalent to one minute in almost two years. There are these small, safe levels of chlorine in most of the drinking water in the United States, and I assume, in the UK as well.​”

While it does not currently export poultry to the UK, the US is a major exporter to over 100 countries around the world. “Our industry exports about 20% by weight of all the chicken meat produced in the US,​” continued Super. “People here in the States, and those around the world, have been eating US chicken safely for decades.

The bottom line is that its use makes the chicken safer, it is not present in the final product, it poses zero health risk, but there are alternatives being used (already approved by the EFSA) to help the industry meet US government and international food safety standards.

We believe that trade negotiations should be based on sound science, not political science or fearmongering.​”

Related topics: Meat

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