Why is chlorinated chicken back on the table?

The news that the UK government is pondering whether it will be importing chlorinated chicken into the country will not have come as a surprise to many.

Given that Michael Gove, then speaking as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, assured us in 2017 that "we are not going to dilute our high animal welfare standards, or our high environmental standards, in pursuit of any trade deal”, the writing was on the wall.

Funny how these things pan out.

Now fast forward three years. Low and behold, our government is bending over backwards to include Trump's chickens, plump and juicy with a lifetime of probable infection, disease and frankly fuck knows what else, into trade deals with the United States of America.

It is another embarrassment in what promises to be a long line of attempts to tickle the thumb that Johnson finds himself underneath, incapacitated and immobilsed. A thumb that is pressing down so hard that you can almost see the dribbles running down his ill-fitting trouser leg. That panic is now extending to damaging and detrimental policies on farming and food standards.

To be clear, the clamour from those against the notion of importing chlorinated chicken is not hinged upon the use of the chlorine. Obviously, it’s conjurs an unpalatable image. However, in 2005 the European Food Safety Authority stated that using it ‘would be of no safety concern’ to consumers whatsoever.

The problem is why it is deemed necessary.

Due to the intense battery farming of chickens in the US, the birds live their lives tightly packed to others. The close proximity to others animals raises the probability of infection and disease being first contracted and then spread throughout the farm.

Instead of reducing the number of birds inhabiting these spaces, one solution to making them fit for public consumption is to disinfect the meat in a bath of chemicals. That is where the chlorine comes in.

This gave the green-light to farmers in the US to populate their pens with as many animals as they could physically fit. More interested in the pursuit of the Benjamins, any pause for thought into how the animals are reared, as well as the lives they lead, are registered as lower, subsidiary concerns - assuming that they are registered as concerns at all.

In the EU, chlorine baths were banned in 1997. This measure was put in place to help standardise the welfare of animals across Europe. For over 20 years then, the import of chicken from the US simply has not been a thing. For 20 years then, we have judged the product to be far below the standards that we should expect and demand.

With the halcyon days of good standards behind us, the United Kingdom has clambered to the negotiating table like a moth to a flame, seemingly unfazed by the white-hot heat of indignation and widespread criticism for undercutting British farmers with cheaper imports.

Instead of putting in the hard yards to make sure farming is kept clean and bacteria-free, the government is handing out a free pass. Instead of getting to the root cause ethically and morally, dunking the problem in disinfectant absolves it of its ills. The strategic approach amounts to the nudge-nudge, wink-wink of ‘as long as it gets to the table, chaps’.

The blatant distancing from any responsibility or acknowledgement of a moral compass is another slap in the face in a series of slaps-in-faces. A particular comment that has long-since stuck in my craw was that of Jacob Rees-Mogg in the run-up to the election. His tone deaf remarks on the rising use of food banks demonstrating ‘what a compassionate country we are’ shows an astounding detachment from the cause being anything to do with governmental policy.

To be clear, it is not political pragmatism to import this chicken. Nor is it is expedient, a 'quick win', to attain this end. It’s a dereliction of duty from policy makers to hang the carrot of even cheaper meat over those most economically vunerable in society at the expense of basic hygiene and moral fortitude - and it could be coming to a supermarket near you soon.

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