by Roz Paterson • Hey, happy new year! Have you noticed that Liam Fox, currently UK Trade Secretary, keeps saying that US-produced chicken is ‘perfectly safe’?
Does that worry you at all, as you open the lid of your Fried Funky Chicken Family Fun Box, full of unidentifiable bits and bobs of poultry dunked in fancy-nancy ruskolene substitute?
Does it raise the spectre of John Gummer, once the Tory secretary for agriculture, encouraging his four year old daughter to eat a beef burger in front of the press, at the height of the BSE crisis, in a grisly bid to ‘prove’ it was, ahem, ‘perfectly safe’? Me too.
Of the many, many worrisome aspects of Brexit, is the very likely possibility—nay, the almost certainty—that it will open the door to food imports produced with lower welfare and hygiene standards, to the detriment of farm animals’ lives, our already degraded relationship with the food we eat, and human health.
Headlining this upcoming food crisis is the case of chlorinated—or chlorine-washed—chicken, currently legal in North America, long since completely banned in the fussy, red-tape crazy EU.
What’s wrong with rinsing some chicky bits in bathroom cleaner before selling it to be public, you cry?
Because, unfortunately, this wee sapple through is considered enough to compensate for hollowing out all the other hygiene regulations pertaining to poultry farming, such as changing your clothes before you enter, and leave, the henhouse, thereby restricting the possibility of bacteria such as Salmonella entering the food chain in the first place.
Research suggests that, by the time the chicken is ready to be washed, the damage may have been done. For example, only 20-30 per cent of food-poisoning cases borne of the bacteria Campylobacter occur via the handling, preparation and eating stage.
Some 50-80 per cent occur through other means, perhaps through contact at poultry farms. It is troublesome data, and suggests that we should not take the American approach of not banning practices and substances until they are proved dangerous, but stick to the EU one, of prevention being better than cure.
Post-Brexit, when the government will be scrabbling to make trade deals with a piss-poor hand and no friends, we will be very vulnerable to strong-arming by US negotiators, seeking to drive down our standards to broaden their own markets.
In other words, those of Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group looking into the impact on welfare standards after Brexit, “poorly managed trade deals”, especially between the US and the UK, “could trigger a race to the bottom in terms of standards…”
Not only are there risks to consumers, but also to slaughterhouse workers, who are at increased risk of respiratory problems through inhaling chemicals such as chlorine, and to the environment, as yet more chemical effluent will be flushed into water sources and soil.
This is not the whole story, however. As environmental writer and campaigner George Monbiot points out, the chlorinated chicken scandal serves as a cover story for far worse abuses.
For instance, in the US, it is pretty standard to regularly use antibiotics, on a prophylactic basis, as a means of limiting disease amongst livestock.
One such, administered in low doses, is “critically important” to human health, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. This practice is ideal for the breeding of new, antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
There’s more. There’s the ongoing use of anti-histamines, which are linked to the development of dementia in humans. There’s the regular use of hormones associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, again in humans.
Can we avoid it? Calling for better welfare standards, or at least the maintenance of those we currently have in place, is important, though we may be pissing in the wind if the UK government continues to prioritise trade deals above… everything else.
Interestingly, in the US, veganism is on the rise. So much so, that even the big food giants are taking notice.
Vegan food sales rose by 8.1 per cent last year, with sales of plant-based milk up 3.1 per cent, compared to a five per cent decline in cow’s milk, projected to drop by another 11 per cent through 2020, according to market researchers Mintel.
Sure, a lot of this is high-end, hipster fashion, by people who can afford to follow food trends. But much of it is political, borne of a revulsion with factory-farming, meat production in general, and the environmental costs of it all.
And vegan food can be cheap too. Jack Munro, the champion of good food on a budget, has gone vegan, and now fashions her famously easy, cheaper-than-chips meals from bags of lentils and late-night, discounted veg.
Even if you did it once or twice a week, you’d be significantly reducing your environmental impact and saving yourself a whole load of grief over dodgy meat and all its discontents.
If everyone in the US went vegetarian, we’d be more than halfway to addressing the issue of over-consumption and mankind’s impact on the climate.
Make it chickpeas not chicken, for a humane and healthy 2018.