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MPs Are Once Again Asking the U.K. to Reject Chlorinated Chicken

A new Agriculture Bill could be the end of U.S. ambitions to import the poultry

A 2019 chlorinated chicken protest against Donald Trump
Chlorinated chicken has become a synecdoche for fears over U.S. food safety practices
Richard Baker/Getty Images

Return of agriculture bill renews fight over food safety standards

Chicken washed with chlorine has long been an outsized cipher for trade relations between the U.K. and the U.S. after Brexit. The practice is banned in the European Union, and the U.K. government has indicated an official lack of enthusiasm, but the U.S. has long earmarked the poultry as a major export opportunity.

With the new Agriculture Bill due in the House of Commons today, the government expects pressure over these import decisions. While a final call is set to be made in another upcoming Trade Bill, a growing number of Conservative MPs have joine Labour in calling for protections against chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef to be enshrined in the Agriculture Bill.

The chicken itself isn’t necessarily the real issue — it’s a synecdoche for wider concerns about the U.S.’s ability to undercut U.K. farmers and the destiny of U.K. policy after Brexit. Currently, genetic modification, use of growth hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics have long prevented the U.S. from striking a deal with the EU, and more fundamentally, European law forces chemicals and practices to be tested for safety before use. U.S. law allows any dangerous practices to be accounted for after the damage is done. More philosophically, those opposed to Brexit see chlorinated chicken as a metaphor for everything to be lost, the security of consensus; those in favour see it as everything to be gained, a release from tyranny. And, with novel coronavirus disproportionately affecting and killing workers in U.S. meat production plants, that divide is only likely to grow further. It’s never just about the chicken. [BBC]

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