Why Is Chlorinated Chicken So Bad?

Is Chlorinated Chicken Really That Bad?

What is chlorinated chicken?

In the US farms are allowed to wash chicken carcasses in water containing chlorine dioxide in order to kill disease-causing bacteria such as E coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella on the surface of meat. Other chemicals are also sometimes used in this ‘washing’ process.

But we have chlorine in our drinking water and use it in our swimming pools, so why is washing chicken with it so bad?

The washing of chicken in chlorine is not the problem. What is of major concern, is the following:

1. Chlorine Washing Does Not Kill All Bacteria

Scientists have cast doubt on the claims that poultry washed in chlorine is safe. Simon Dawson, Senior Lecturer in Food Science and Technology at Cardiff Metropolitan University, said that pathogens “go into a suspended state” but are not killed off entirely. This means that the chlorine wash just makes it impossible to detect the bacteria. As a result, it is assumed that the bacteria on the chicken has been killed when it hasn’t.

What about food poisoning comparisons between the US & the UK?

Americans have been eating chlorinated chicken for a long time, so why shouldn’t we?

Simon Dawson has pointed out:

“In the UK, the Food Standards Agency have reported that there are approximately one million cases of foodborne illness each year, with a population currently of 66 million, you have about a 1.5 in 100 chance per year of getting food poisoning.

“In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that there are approximately 37 million cases of foodborne illness each year. With a population of 327 million, you have an 11.4 in 100 chance per year of getting food poisoning. In other words, you are over seven times more likely to get food poisoning in the US than the UK,” he says.

2. Lower Standards Of Animal Welfare

Although animal welfare in the UK is not perfect, particularly in the case of caged chickens (see ‘How To Eat Eggs With A clear Conscience‘)- it is still a lot better than the US standards. Chlorine washing of chickens is banned in the UK. Instead we require higher hygiene and welfare standards so that there is no need to chlorine wash our poultry.

Another concern is the use of antibiotics on chickens – although their use isn’t limited to chickens! When chickens are kept in large flocks and in dirty conditions it is highly likely that bacteria will develop and spread. This results in the chickens being given antibiotics which means that life saving drugs are then less effective for humans.

Didn’t the Government Promise Not To Import Chlorinated Chicken?

Yes it did.

2019 Conservative Party Manifesto

The manifesto pledged “to not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare, and food standards”.

And ….

Theresa Villiers (Environment Secretary)

As the Environment Secretary in January 2020, Theresa Villiers said –

“We will not be importing chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef, both illegal under EU law which we will be importing in to our domestic system. We have the commitment of the Prime Minister”

But, this position may have changed …..

Backbench Conservative MPs tried to amend an agriculture bill to incorporate their 2019 manifesto promise and ban chlorinated chicken imports. Unfortunately the move was defeated.

Furthermore …..

In May this year, Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, said that the UK could import US chicken in a post-Brexit deal.

So it looks as if the governments position on chlorinated chicken has shifted. However, I’m not so sure that the public’s view on this has.

If the UK Imports Chlorinated Chicken from the US, I Will Not Buy It!

Unfortunately it does not appear that this choice will be available to consumers – unless you refrain from buying any produce containing chicken. We simply won’t know whether the chicken we are eating was washed in chlorine. This is due to the following:

  • It may not be labelled. Food producers don’t have to inform UK customers about whether or not chlorine was used .
  • Restaurants & caterers don’t have to declare where their meat is from.

Would Our Government Consider Lowering Food Standards To Get A Trade Deal With The US?

There certainly are concerns that the UK will be pressured into accepting chlorinated chicken as part of a US/UK trade deal. Kath Dalmeny ( Sustain) has said:

“The US has made it abundantly clear that if the UK wants to do a trade deal with them we will have to lower our food standards”

As mentioned earlier, the government has already backpedalled on its position regarding chlorinated chicken. What’s even more worrying, is that the trade bill makes no provision for parliamentary scrutiny of any deal. It also grants the government powers to change the law on trade agreements without parliamentary approval.

It certainly looks like the government is preparing to push through a trade deal with the US that would lower our food standards.

In conclusion ….

Chlorinated chicken may well end up on your dinner plate!

On the positive side, you can always choose not to buy any chicken products. But this will come at a cost because chicken is cheaper than most other meats. However, a greater worry is that chlorinated chicken is just the tip of the iceberg. A trade deal with the US that lowers our food standards is just frightening.

In an excellent article by George Monbiot in The Guardian, he states:

“As well as washing chicken flesh with chlorine to compensate for the filthy conditions in which it is raised and processed, and injecting dangerous substances into cattle and pigs, Big Farmer and Big Food in the US use 72 pesticides that are banned in the UK and food colourings that have been linked to hyperactivity in children, impose no limits on the amount of sugar in baby food and permit cow’s milk to contain twice the amount of pus that the UK allows.”

The Soil Association, a food and farming charity, points out 10 risks from a UK/US trade deal here.

If the risk of seeing chlorinated chicken on your dinner plate and the lowering of our food standards worries you, then please share this article and sign the NFU petition below. Thank you.


NFU Food Standards Petition

 “I want the food I eat to be produced to world leading standards.

Our Government should ensure that all food eaten in the UK – whether in our homes, schools, hospitals, restaurants or from shops – is produced in a way that matches the high standards of production expected of UK farmers. Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of food security and traceability.

I believe the UK Government should seize the opportunities of ‘Global Britain’ to promote sustainable models of production and consumption across the world.

Farming throughout the UK has high standards of safety and welfare with an ambition to be net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. There are very strict controls on farming methods allowed in the UK and I expect the same of all food which is imported here so the food I eat is as safe, traceable and produced to high welfare and environmental standards.

Before the UK begins to negotiate trade deals with countries around the world, I call on the UK Government to put into law rules that prevent food being imported to the UK which is produced in ways that would be illegal here.”

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