A tale of things to come: red lines, details and chickens

Thu 27 Jul 2017
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

exporting chlorinated chickens

Though no official talks can begin between the UK and the US around a potential new free trade agreement until the UK has officially left the EU, there is already plenty of discussion in the news around some of the potential stumbling blocks for a deal.

Chlorinated chicken – i.e. chicken washed with chlorine – has made plenty of headlines as the UK government appears split on whether the UK would accept imports of it from the US; as part of the EU, the UK currently does not.

‘Details’ and ‘red lines’

Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, suggested it was a mere detail’ to be agreed upon, but with Environment Secretary Michael Gove the next day saying that such imports would be a red line in the negotiations, it appears that there is plenty of discussion within the UK about what the line between what constitutes a negotiating point.

Chlorinating chickens are the subject of concerns around animal and environmental standards.  It’s a practice banned in the EU due to guidance suggesting that it worsens food standards by allowing abattoirs to rely on it as a decontaminant, replacing more thorough washing for a process that only appears to make the meat fresher. The EU believes there is a risk of an increase in salmonella, among other diseases, as a result of chlorination.

Many more details for 'Global Britain' to iron out

There will likely be many other such ‘details’ in potential trade deals with markets all over the world that will be subject to such concerns – a serious challenge for ‘Global Britain’ post-Brexit.

 Such concerns have prevented multiple previous international trade deals from being signed off. One of the key barriers to agreement on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was the EU’s stand against Pathogen Reduction Treatments (PRTs). While the US wanted to open up freer markets for produce treat with PRTs, the EU brands such practice as below the animal welfare standards it sets.

Considering the EU is a larger market than the UK alone, the US will be even less likely to step back from its desire to open up the UK market for such produce as part of any deal.

Ramifications for future UK-EU trade

And the ramifications of accepting imports of things like chlorinated chicken could have trade ramifications for the UK in its dealings with the EU.

Gianni Pitella, leader of the socialist group in the European parliament, is quoted as saying that should the UK accept such imports, the EU will then need to ‘have checks and controls on goods coming from the UK’.

Not popular with British farmers

Ultimately, UK farmers could be placed in a double bind should the government allow these imports as part of a free trade agreement with the US.

If, they were to stick to EU standards in a market flooded with US chlorinated chicken, they would risk being undercut in the price, as chlorination generally cheapens the poultry cleaning process. On the other hand, if they start to chlorinate poultry themselves, they would no longer be hitting the standards required for exporting to the EU.

On the matter, the British Poultry Council told the Guardian the following:

“[The council] rejects the notion of importing chlorine-washed chickens as part of a makeweight in trade negotiations with the US”.

The UK poultry meat industry stands committed to feeding the nation with nutritious food and any compromise on standards will not be tolerated. A secure post-Brexit deal must be about Britain’s future food security and safety. This is a matter of our reputation on the global stage.”


Is chlorinated chicken bad for our health and the environment? – the Independent, 26/07/17

Media is 'obsessed' with chlorine-washed chicken, says Liam Fox – the Guardian, 24/07/17