Agriculture Minister Michael Gove has reiterated his stance that he will not allow chlorinated chicken from the United States into the UK post-Brexit.
Speaking at the Hay-on-Wye festival, Mr Gove said any post-Brexit trade deals would not drive down UK animal welfare standards, saying “over my dead body” to lower welfare quality products flooding in from the US. Chlorinated chicken is currently barred from entry to the European Union on animal welfare grounds.
He was backed by British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths, who tweeted: “The UK can deliver quality and affordability and if we get it right the US won’t get a look in….apart from if our standards are sold from under us.”
But former UK ambassador to the US Sir Peter Westmacott said President Trump’s administration would force Britain to open up its markets to cheap American meat, as part of any bilateral trade deal.
Their comments followed the citing of new research by microbiologists from Southampton University, who found that American chlorine washing techniques at the heart of the Brexit trade row does not kill Salmonella and Listeria.
The research team, led by Professor William Keevil, found that the process merely made it impossible to culture them in a laboratory, giving the false impression that chlorine washing has been effective.
The research, published in the US scientific journal mBio, looked at the effect of chlorinated washing on spinach but Prof Keevil said it also applied to poultry.
“We tested the strains of Listeria and Salmonella that we had chlorine washed on nematodes (roundworms), which have a relatively complex digestive system. All of them died,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
“Chlorine washed chicken, giving the impression of being safe, can then cross-contaminate the kitchen,” he added.
Kath Dalmeny, Sustain chief executive, said its own analysis of official food poisoning data showed that the rate of food poisoning was 10 times higher in the US than in the UK, mainly from Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken and eggs.
“Those dead nematodes are telling us something. This research suggests US chlorine washing may give a false impression of food safety.
“Proper food safety relies on clean production methods with high animal welfare, resilience to disease and full traceability and labelling – not just end of pipe chemical washes,” she added.