Row as US official brands European food safety standards ‘old-fashioned’

30 May 2019, Katie Coyne

Skinned, headless chickens hanging in a row to be processed in a factory

The charity Sustain and consumer watchdog Which? have damned comments made by a US official that chlorinated chicken is a myth and US safety standards are ‘more advanced’ than EU ones.

Ken Isley, an administrator at the US Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, made these comments at a convention in Chicago, which were picked up by the Independent newspaper.

This followed comments made by the UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox earlier this month, who said objections to chlorine-washed chicken were not based on food safety concerns.

However, Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, has hit back pointing to its analysis showing higher rates of food poisoning deaths in the US related to chicken. It also pointed to a report from the University of Southampton that showed chlorine washes may only disguise the presence of harmful pathogens, rather than kill them.

Sustain chief executive Kath Dalmeny 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.

“That would mean UK consumers being forced to accept things like hormone-treated beef, pesticides currently banned in the UK, the removal of E-number additive labelling and overuse of farm antibiotics.

“But research from Which? shows UK consumers have already made it clear they do not want to lower their food standards in exchange for a US trade deal. We want a say in future trade deals so we don't prop up poor farming systems with poor health, hygiene and animal welfare standards."

This debate around the use of chlorine washing chicken is long-running. Ted McKinney, US undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, commented 18 months ago that Brexit provided an opportunity for the UK to press a ‘reset button’ on food regulations.

Which? director of advocacy Caroline Normand said: “One of the reasons why foodborne disease rates are so much higher in the US is that these measures [such as chlorine washing] are often used as a desperate attempt to make up for widespread safety problems in food production – leaving bacteria like salmonella to run rampant.”

Normand added that a survey found that nearly seven in ten people would feel uncomfortable eating chlorine-washed chicken.

Normand added: "Brexit is an opportunity to design a joined-up food and farming policy that ensures food is produced to the highest standards – the nation's health needs must not be used as a bargaining chip that could be given away to facilitate transatlantic trade."

Isley is reported to have said: "I think the concerns and fear [around US food safety standards] are unfounded. I would stack US food safety and our food safety record against anywhere in the world.

"Chlorinated chicken is an example. That practice and processing is very, very limited in the US now and is being phased out, not for food safety reasons but because newer technologies become available."

Asked what other hygiene methods are being used on US chickens, he said 'acetic acid' (vinegar). On US standards he said: “It's not lower food safety standards, it's different and more advanced and more modern than what you find in Europe.

"In a lot of ways [EU methods] are old-fashioned, based on traditions, not based on modern science and technology."

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