You might reasonably expect this post to provide a couple of chicken recipes. No, sorry, no recipes. Instead I am talking about something that concerns me deeply and about which I am alternately enraged and anxious.
How does the idea of eating chlorine-washed chicken appeal to you? How do you like the idea of not being able to identify that the chicken you’re about to buy for Sunday lunch has been treated in that way? To immediately allay your fears, if you are presently buying said chicken in an EU country, you won’t be eating chicken à la chlorine.
Once the UK has left the EU and is possibly left without the protection of its highly developed Food Safety and Animal Welfare regulations, it is likely that a trade treaty will be entered into with the USA. For many items, that may well be good but food? Not so much. Animal Welfare and Food Safety Regulations in the USA are remarkably less protective than in the EU. That is good for neither man nor beast and my absolute number one concern is American – produced chicken.
I must state that United States Department of Agriculture organically reared and certified chicken is honourably excepted from the remarks below, as indeed are EU certified organic birds.
Chicken not produced under that certification are reared in sheds of up to 30,000 flocks from a few days old to the ripe old age of 42 days. The sheds are not cleaned during that time so the creatures live on increasing layers of ammonia which burns the animals and renders human breathing so compromised that it is almost impossible to enter the sheds safely. At 42 days they are either slaughtered for the food chain or ground up alive and made into fertiliser. During their short, miserable lives those creatures will have been routinely fed antibiotics and inorganic arsenic (this latter is NOT legal in the EU) in order to prevent disease and give the illusion of a healthy bird. They have also been pumped full of growth hormones to accelerate their development process and produce an anatomically deformed creature that has huge breasts and spindly little legs (any relation to Barbie dolls is unintentional), that disposition of flesh apparently being what the consumer wants.
At this point – if you are still with me – I must say that this equally applies to intensively reared chicken in the EU, too. Nothing in the paragraph above is illegal in the EU (except the inorganic arsenic part), shocking though those conditions are.
What is however, strictly outlawed in the EU and with good reason, is the washing in a chlorine solution of chickens. In the USA, once the bird is slaughtered and eviscerated, they are routinely washed in a chlorine solution approximating the concentration used in public swimming baths. This is alleged to diminish the risk of E.coli and Salmonella being present in the bird. Some processors shower the birds, others literally bathe them so the water is cross contaminated by being used for multiple birds, which release particles of blood and faeces into the bath. There is no reliable evidence that this process reduces the possibility of the consumer contracting either E.Coli or Salmonella. It is the rearing process which protects against that; chlorine bathing is shutting the henhouse door after the chicken has flown.
The UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP has been quoted as saying that “Americans have been eating it safely for years”. Really? Is America a healthy country? I’m happy to leave you to make that judgement but my own experience of watchful cooks and consumers in the USA is that they only buy and eat organic chicken and eat it less frequently in order to balance their budgets. They avoid commercially processed food and only buy with full traceability. To not take these precautions exposes them to birds raised and chlorine treated as described above.
So this worrying situation may be coming to the UK sometime after 2019. Even worse, any repealing of Animal Welfare and Food Legislation originating in the EU could leave unscrupulous producers in the UK open to utilising chlorine washing as a so-called safety measure. So there is now every possibility that the quality of food in this country will diminish; industrial producers, who have the loudest voices, deepest pockets and the ear of the politicians will rub their hands in glee at the prospect of spending less on rearing and production, thus compromising animal welfare and – let’s not forget this – flavour.
Not only the chickens will suffer: we will too. I do not want antibiotics that aren’t prescribed by my GP, nor do I want to support a hellish industrial process that plays on my conscience. I am happy to eat less chicken but pay more for an organically reared bird. I am happy to buy a whole bird and use all of it, right down to the bones. The more of us that do the, the smaller the market for the industrialists and bigger the opportunities for organic farmers.
I for one, have no intention of chicken à la chlorine with a side order of inorganic arsenic being on my table any time soon.