MPs have rejected the Agriculture Bill - but is chlorine-washed chicken still illegal in the UK?

Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 11:18 am
Updated Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 11:19 am
Is chlorinated chicken illegal in the UK? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Is chlorinated chicken illegal in the UK? (Photo: Shutterstock)

MPs have rejected a bill which would require imported food to meet UK legal standards from 1 January 2021.

A Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill - which would require trade deals to meet UK animal welfare and food safety rules - was struck down.

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The government stated that making current standards legal was unnecessary as ministers had already committed to making sure that UK food standards would remain intact in any post-Brexit trade agreements.

Kath Dalmeny, chair of the Future British Standards Coalition, said, “It’s dismaying that the government has opposed attempts to put into law its own commitment to maintain British food standards.

“It is perfectly possible to have high standards at home and sign trade deals with new trading partners who meet them. It’s what consumers have repeatedly said they want.”

‘An increasing risk of lower quality food’

Luke Pollard, the shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, said, “The Conservatives have again broken their promise to British farmers and the public.

“No one wants lower quality food on our plates, but there is an increasing risk that this could happen because the prime minister is refusing to show leadership. Labour will always back British farmers and it is a disgrace that the tories won’t do the same.”

Neil Parish, a Conservative MP and chair of the Select Committee on the environment, food and rural affairs, said, “Why are we not a great beacon of animal welfare and the environment as we negotiate these trade deals?

“We the British believe in agriculture, we believe in farming.”

The government says that EU rules banning imports of chlorine-washed chicken and other products will be automatically written into UK law after the post-Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

However, campaigners say that the ban of chlorine-washed chicken would still allow for many other types of food produced under conditions illegal in the UK to be imported.

Supermarkets pledge never to sell chlorinated chicken

Earlier in the year, when concerns regarding the UK’s food safety standards had started to grow, a number of supermarkets pledged to never stock the likes of chlorinated chicken or hormone injected beef on their shelves.

The supermarkets that have joined the pledge include:

  • Aldi
  • Waitrose
  • Co-op
  • M&S
  • Sainsbury’s

Aldi’s chief executive, Giles Hurley, said, “We will never compromise on the standards or specifications of our products, and that includes a commitment to never selling chlorinated chicken or hormone injected beef.

“Britain has some of the highest food quality standards in the world, and our commitment to only source chicken and beef from this country means our customers know they are always buying high quality Aldi products at an unbeatable value.”

Waitrose executive director, James Bailey, said, “Any regression from the standards we have pioneered for the past 30 years, both as a business and a country, would be an unacceptable backwards step.

“We would be closing our eyes to a problem that exists in another part of the world and to animals who are out of our sight and our minds.”

However, even if all supermarkets across the UK pledged not to stock these items, the foods would still be present in the catering industry, where it would be harder to trace.

Public not comfortable with lower food standards

In a survey conducted by Which?, it was revealed that the majority of people would not be happy with the UK lowering its food standards.

According to the survey, four out of five people said that they would be uncomfortable with eating beef that had been given growth hormones, and three out of four people would also be uncomfortable eating chlorinated chicken.

In a survey of more than 2,000 people, 74 per cent were opposed to imports of lower quality of food as part of the UK-US trade deal, and 95 per cent of participants said that it is important for the UK to retain its existing food standards.