European Union flags and the U.K. flag in the wind. AP Photo/Virginia Mayo
The United Kingdom plans to continue its ban on chlorinated chicken from the United States after Brexit. The European Union already has a ban on chicken washed in chlorine. If chlorinated chicken is safe, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), why are other countries prohibiting it?
Chlorinated Chicken Science
Chlorinated chicken means the meat has been rinsed with chlorine. The USDA allows farmers to use chlorine to disinfect chicken because bleach can kill bacteria such as Salmonella.
The USDA recommends an 18 to 30 parts per million (ppm) chlorine rinse for chicken and allows 3 ppm of residual chlorine dioxide in chiller water, so the chemical is diluted significantly. For comparison, the CDC considers 4 ppm of chlorine in drinking water safe.
The National Chicken Council estimates that only 10% of the processing plants in the U.S. actually use chlorine. In addition, the National Chicken Council mentions, “[N]umerous studies and scientific research have confirmed that the use of chlorinated water to chill and clean chicken is safe and effective. Chlorine-washed chicken does not pose any human health concerns and it is not present in the final product.”
Reasons for the Ban
According to the BBC, the European Union believes that allowing farmers to use chlorine makes them more careless when raising their chickens, and the U.K. seems to agree. However, the U.S. considers the ban as a way to protect European farmers from competition by banning U.S. chicken imports.
Although the European Union banned chlorinated chicken in 1997, it continues to allow chlorine-washed bagged salads. The argument against chlorine-washed chicken focuses on the possibility of lower standards during the production process since the disinfectant can be used as a way to compensate for them.
In an opinion report, the European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Panel decided that chlorine rinses did not pose a health risk and pointed out, “[C]onsidering that poultry carcass is to be consumed only after processing the exposure levels would diminish further. The Panel therefore concluded that after processing (washing, cooking) the actual exposure to chlorine dioxide residues arising from treated poultry carcasses would be of no safety concern.”
For now, the ban against importing chlorinated chicken stands in the U.K. and European Union. However, it will continue to be a point of debate during trade discussions.