Secretary of state for the environment George Eustice must withdraw his ‘worrying and incorrect’ claim that USA poultry farms ‘don’t use chlorine much anymore’, which has raised concerns about the sincerity of the government’s post-Brexit food promises, Unite has said.
Mr Eustice made the claim while being interviewed on Times Radio on Sunday (15 November).
Asked about prospective USA secretary of state senator Chris Coons’ comments that the UK and US will have to come to an agreement over chlorinated chicken in order to strike a trade deal, Mr Eustice said: “US farms don’t actually use chlorine much anymore – it’s an old technology from the 1970s.”
Following Mr Eustice’s comments, American food industry trade unions confirmed to Unite that washing chicken in chlorine is still widely practised throughout the US poultry industry.
Pathogen reduction treatments (PRTs), of which chlorine is one, are common throughout US poultry processing. The UK and EU have banned poultry processed with PRTs because their use allows for laxer hygiene and quality standards during farming and processing.
While Mr Eustice reiterated that the UK ban on such produce is going to stay in place, Unite warned the minister’s comments appear to downplay the issue and have raised concerns that the government could break its promise in order to achieve a deal with the United States.
Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said, “Mr Eustice’s claim that USA poultry farms don’t use chlorine much anymore is worrying and incorrect – Unite’s sister unions in America have confirmed to us that quite the opposite is true.
“We are calling on the minister to withdraw his comments so that consumers are in no way misled about the prevalence of chlorinated chicken in the USA and the chances of such produce ending up on British plates if market access is granted.
“Not to do so will increase concerns that Mr Eustice’s comments are an attempt to soften public perception on this issue so that the government’s pledges can be broken later on.
“This is particularly needed following the passing of the Agriculture Bill last week, which contained a last-minute sop from ministers on protecting food import standards. In reality, there is nothing contained in the bill to stop a determined government allowing substandard produce into the UK.
“As a union we are disturbed by the treatment of poultry workers in the USA and are well aware that exploitation of UK poultry workers would worsen if the government chooses to go back on its word. Opening the door to cheaply produced imports would increase pressure on UK businesses, driving down employment, animal welfare and food safety standards.
“There was a missed opportunity to put in place proper protections in the Agriculture Bill, but there is still time to include them under the Trade Bill, which, if it is to come into force before the transition period ends, needs to be ratified before December 31.”
By Ryan Fletcher