Share this article Share The possibility of US chickens being sold in Britain after a post-Brexit trade deal sparked a huge Cabinet row, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove speaking out against the move while Trade Secretary Liam Fox insisted the chlorine-rinsed meat was safe.
Dr Fox, who met leading politicians and businessmen in the US last week, sparked fury from the public and other Ministers after he signalled he would be in favour of dropping the EU's ban on importing chicken from the US if it proved to be a barrier to securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.
The furore exposed just how difficult it will be for Britain to quickly strike new deals with foreign powers once we leave the EU in It's like two toothpicks sticking out of a grape.
This image shows the chickens being doused in chlorine at a farm in the United States 'They spend 95 per cent of their time sitting on the litter, a mixture of pine shavings and faecal matter from that flock and prior flocks.
Many become infected on the underside of their chest because of contact with the litter. Nearly all America's chicken farmers are under contract with big producers who supply them with chicks, feed and equipment.
The firms dictate what the farmers can do and are paid according to a 'tournament system' that pits farmers against each other. The farmer who produces the most meat with the least feed comes top. A less efficient farmer will have money deducted from his base pay. Critics say this system fosters unhygienic practices because it forces poultry farmers to cut corners on animal welfare to maximise their income per flock.
Campaigners who work with farmers to improve standards say many are too scared to speak out for fear of having their contracts terminated.
One farmer, John — not his real name — is currently part of a class action lawsuit by chicken farmers against big US poultry companies. We get around five cents [4p] a pound of meat. Seventy per cent of poultry growers live below the poverty level. Footage shot at a farm in Georgia last month by the Humane Society of the United States showed the owner of the farm bludgeoning chickens with a metal rod. The chicken shed at the farm also appeared to be badly overcrowded. Many birds seemed to be suffering from severe leg problems and some were unable to walk to reach food and water.
Yet in the US — as in Britain — consumer demand for chicken continues to grow. Nine billion chickens were slaughtered in the US last year. US chickens have more than tripled in size since , according to academic studies. The birds cost 20 per cent less than British chickens, which are typically one third smaller than US birds.
Major poultry producers have cross-bred and interbred birds in recent decades to create 'mutant' chickens which grow larger in a shorter space of time and need less feed. Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser for British-based welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming, said: They end up sitting in their own waste. However, the US poultry industry maintains that its birds are healthier than ever. He said the process was not harmful to consumers, adding: Britain and the EU have widespread vaccination programmes.
This image shows the chickens on the way to being slaughtered by electrocution Supporters of chlorine-washed chicken point out both the US and European food safety authorities have declared the chemicals used to wash chickens in the States do not pose any risk to human health. It is not present in the final product, it poses zero health risk. The question is why are chickens so contaminated in the first place. And the issue is that we are not doing a good job of raising chickens.
It indicates how unhealthy we are raising our birds. In the UK and Europe, poultry farmers must not keep more than 17 chickens per square metre in their sheds.
There are also rules governing available natural light, temperature and the maximum levels of ammonia. In the US there is not one single piece of federal law that governs how to raise chickens. There is not even a law which states that chickens must be stunned unconscious before they are slaughtered, although it is common practice. There are concerns that if American chicken is allowed into the country, British farmers will be forced to dilute their welfare standards to compete with the cheaper meat.
Shraddha Kaul, of the British Poultry Council, said: It is an approach which means it doesn't matter how badly you treat your chicken, you can just clean it away at the end of the process.