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U.K. Supermarkets Rejecting Chlorinated Chicken Is Less Seismic Than It Sounds

Aldi, Waitrose, and others say they won’t stock U.S. meat — but it’s not as simple as turning away chicken breasts

Rows of supermarket chicken
Whole meat isn’t the focus of U.S. trade’s impact on U.K. food
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The problem with U.S. meat goes beyond whole chickens

A broad coalition of U.K. supermarkets have dealt Boris Johnson an apparent blow by pledging not to stock chlorinated chicken or hormone-injected beef, should the U.K. strike an agricultural trade deal with the U.S. The Co-op and Marks and Spencer have joined Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Aldi in their antagonism to the products, according to Business Insider.

Every supermarket cited support for both customers and farmers in clarifying its position, to varying degrees of firmness, largely responding to the government’s wriggling out of its manifesto pledge to protect food standards in June. They are choosing U.K. meat ahead of U.S. meat; at least when it comes to steaks and chicken breasts and whole birds.

None of the statements accounted for where chlorinated chicken is most likely to enter the supply chain: food processing plants and meal production factories. Even if supermarkets can reject the raw product, that rejection falls into the same trap that food standards protests fall into with chlorinated chicken: a clearly defined, easily protested bogeyman for consequences that are in reality much less graspable. Ready meal producers like Bakkavor, which supplies Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and other supermarkets that have made this pledge, are likely to see cost benefits if U.S. meat makes it into a trade deal, and supermarkets are unlikely to boycott huge sources of product. Maybe they will: but it’s more likely, that despite the nobility of any pledge, the burden of lower food standards will again fall on people who have the least choice in what they buy.

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