In the Daily Telegraph, the US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, has urged the UK to embrace US farming methods.

The US Ambassador says US practices such a chlorinated- washing of chicken and feeding growth hormones to cattle are the “future of arming” while the EU’s “traditionalist approach” belongs in the past. 

The article goes on to say, “You have been presented with a false choice,” he wrote. “Either stick to EU directives, or find yourselves flooded with American food of the lowest quality. Inflammatory and misleading terms like ‘chlorinated chicken’ and ‘hormone beef’ are deployed to cast American farming in the worst possible light.

“It is time the myths are called out for what they really are. A smear campaign from people with their own protectionist agenda.”

He also said the EU’s “Museum of Agriculture” approach was not sustainable adding: “American farmers are making a vital contribution to the rest of the world. Their efforts deserve to be recognised. 

He also said the EU’s “Museum of Agriculture” approach was not sustainable adding: “American farmers are making a vital contribution to the rest of the world. Their efforts deserve to be recognised. 

He also notes that using chlorine to wash chicken was the same as that used by EU farmers to treat their fresh produce and describing it as a “public safety no-brainer”, he insisted it was the most effective and economical way of dealing with “potentially lethal” bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter.

The comments were made after the US published its objectives to a potential trade deal with the UK. The US government has called for comprehensive market access for produce to reach Britain. This includes removing certain sanitary and phytosanitary standards on imported goods.

The EU currently limits US imports of certain food products, including chicken and beef.

The UK Government has repeatedly denied it will accept lower food standards. A spokesperson said: “We have always been very clear that we will not lower our food standards as part of future trading agreement” 

The National Union of Farmers (NUF) says it isn’t surprised that the US is pushing for a trade deal which accepts US production standards and practices.

“It is imperative that any future trade deals, including a possible deal with the US, do not allow the imports of food produced to lower standards than those required of British farmers,” says NFU President Minette Batters.

“British people value and demand the high standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety that our own farmers adhere to. These world-leading standards must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of reaching rushed trade deals. We should not accept trade deals which allow food to be imported into this country produced in ways which would be illegal here.”

What is chlorine-washed chicken?

In the US, it is legal to wash chicken carcasses in strongly chlorinated water.

Producers argue that it stops the spread of microbial contamination from the bird's digestive tract to the meat, a method approved by US regulators.

But the practice has been banned in the EU since 1997, where only washing with cold air or water is allowed. This ban has stopped all imports of US chicken meat which is generally treated by this process.

However, it is not consuming chlorine itself that the EU is concerned about, in 2005 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said that "exposure to chlorite residues arising from treated poultry carcasses would be of no safety concern."

Chlorine-rinsed bagged salads are common in the UK and other countries in the EU. However, the EU believes that relying on a chlorine treatment as a solution at the end of meat production process could be a way of compensating for poor hygiene standards- such as dirty or crowded abbattoirs.

In the EU, chicken farmers tend to manage potential contamination issues by adopting higher welfare standards. There are also increasing consumer trends demanding a high level of animal welfare. 

However, with the UK on the verge of exiting the EU and with it, it’s strict food safety regulation, there are many opportunities and challenges which need to be addressed in terms of good agricultural practices, market access and trade with third-party countries. 

This includes US poultry farmers who want access to the UK market post-Brexit.