/ Food & Drink

Why we must act now to save our food standards

Trade deals with the US and others could see our high standards torn up. Here’s why we’re demanding the government uphold these hard-won protections.

25/06/2020: Labels won’t protect our standards

Our latest research shows that three in five people say food produced to lower standards should not be on sale, regardless of labelling.

The US takes a different approach to the labelling of production methods, and has even challenged country of origin labelling in the past.

It’s also important to remember that not everything is labelled, such as food sold in schools, hospitals, canteens, restaurants and takeaways.

Using labels to inform consumers in this way would require a huge expansion of labelling, while the US actually wants labelling reduced.

23/06/2020: We must act now

Although the government made a manifesto commitment to uphold food safety and animal welfare standards, they’ve started to backtrack.

Nor have legal protections against any lowering of food standards been included in the Agriculture Bill or the Trade Bill.

Without this binding protection, there’s a real risk that food standards could be lowered in order to sign a trade deal with the US.

The US has made it clear it wants us to accept products that use production methods not permitted here.

That could mean we’re eating hormone-treated beef, chlorinated chicken and vegetables grown with higher levels of pesticides – all legal in the US, but not yet in the UK. 

And it won’t be as simple as choosing better food – these products will go into the catering sector, unlabelled in cafes, restaurants and canteens – and a deal could also restrict the labels put on food, such as origin labels.

That’s why we’re making two demands:

🔷 The government commit to upholding our food standards and enshrine this in law through the Agriculture Bill or Trade Bill.

🔷 The government signal to all future trading partners that the UK is seeking to champion high-quality and high standards food around the globe, and not accept any deals that would weaken them.

Join our campaign to save food standards

Since its launch on 15 June, our petition to save food standards has been signed by more than 199,000 people.

That puts it among our fastest growing campaigns ever. It’s also been shared by Dragons’ Den’s Deborah Meaden:

Support is welcome, because we’re running out of time to save the UK’s world-leading food safety and animal welfare standards. 

Negotiations with the US have already begun and food standards are a potential bargaining chip.

Meanwhile the bills that could legally protect food standards are already being debated in Parliament.

But to take food standards off the table, we need your help.

How can we protect food standards?

Start by signing our petition, which we’re using to influence politicians from all parties to stand up for food standards.

Signing up will also mean you receive the latest updates from the campaign.

You can also tweet your local MP and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss using the hashtag #SaveFoodStandards.

We’re demanding the UK government stand firm against pressure from the US and other future trade partners. Will you join us and support our campaign?

Comments

I fully support the campaign to maintain food standards and hope that Which? has success with its campaign, but am not optimistic that we will be successful.

It’s good that Sue has suggested ways that we can help: “You can also tweet your local MP and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss using the hashtag #SaveFoodStandards but there must be more that we can do than post on social media. In my case there would be no point in contacting my MP, who is one of those who is pushing for the trade deals that will lower food standards and he has an influential position.

I hope the campaign succeeds. There will be huge opposition throughout the country, especially in rural areas, to any moves that undermine UK agriculture. I am afraid I don’t trust Liz Truss Truss not to give in. Despite representing an agricultural constituency and having been the Secretary of State for the Environment etc [incl. agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural affairs] her present mission is to get a transatlantic trade agreement done for strategic reasons that go beyond our health and animal welfare.

Perhaps we should remind the government of these words by George Eustice MP, the current Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, when addressing National Farmers’ Union annual coference on 25 February 2020:
In the UK, we have built a very special market for food based on provenance with particular attention to food safety and animal welfare standards and we will not jeopardise that through trade deals in the future. I have always been very clear about that – and now we are seeing the whole nation tuning in to this conversation. And little wonder, since one in eight of us earn our livelihood from the food industry, and as a nation we have always cared about the welfare of animals, including our farm animals.
Source: Plans for future greener farming, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 26 February 2020.

This Conversation follows a piece by Sue in the July 2020 edition of Which? magazine [p16] on the need for a national food strategy, but I was sorry that Sue was not able to cross-reference here some of the points recently made by contributors to Which? Conversation. See –
https://conversation.which.co.uk/which-membership/which-discussion/#comment-1599976
https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/uk-us-trade-deal-food-standards/#comment-1600031

I notice that Which? is inconsistent in its description of chemically-washed chicken. Sometimes it calls it “chlorinated” and at other times “chlorine-washed”. I presume the treatment is the same but I prefer the latter term for accuracy, although there must remain a risk in the washing process that chlorine could be introduced into the flesh and thereby “chlorinate” it. Or is that the actual intention, and that “washing” is a euphemism?

Shefalee Loth’s major article in the same edition [p17], on the rearing and preparation of meat for human consumption, the different treatment it undergoes, and on it’s labelling and accreditation schemes, is an excellent basic primer and makes clear what we could be letting ourselves in for if we cave in to foreign demands for lower standards for their exports in reciprocation for our access to their markets.

Chlorine washing is one of the terms used to describe one of several possibilities for disinfecting poultry, John. (Chlorine is actually a toxic gas and was used as a weapon during the World Wars.) As a chemistry graduate I dislike popular terminology but we seem to be stuck with that. I do object to the term chlorinate, which is going too far.

Chlorine washing has rightly (in my opinion) received bad press but other chemicals such as per acetic acid can be used to compensate for poor hygiene practices.

Then let’s call it what it is if it comes here: disinfectant cleansing. That might not be good for sales, but it would warn the public that hygiene standards were not good and had to be compensated for by a chemical process.

Presumably the gas is wafted around the chickens in the processing plant, or they go through a chamber containing the gas under some pressure. Whichever, people won’t like the sound of it and that could ruin the import market.

I would be very happy with that, John, but it might cause further confusion.

One of the treatments used is a dilute solution of chlorine dioxide, but there are other alternatives and I doubt that processors will say which one they use.

I very much doubt that chlorine gas is used. The operators would need to wear gas masks.

Yes, one of the worst effects of chlorine is the irritation it causes even before inhalation. People took cover or ran away when it was experimented with in the First World War so it was replaced by phosgene.

I think characterising chlorine as a toxic gas (oxygen can also be toxic) and as a weapon is an emotive technique I dislike in this context. It can distort the argument. Chlorine is used in the treatment of drinking water and to kill germs in swimming pools, for example; that does not kill us

I think these sort of discussions should address the relevant facts in context. If there are dangers from treating chicken with chlorinated water, or whatever, those dangers should stand on their own feet, so to speak.

Malcolm – I was simply explaining that ‘chlorine washing’ is scientifically incorrect but probably the best we can do in the circumstances.

I cannot think of a single good reason to support a process that is essential only because production standards for poultry are deficient. If describing it accurately puts people off, that might help the campaign.

There are dangers from the treatment of chickens by chemical cleansing and they have been clearly stated. If the broiler chickens are to be disinfected at the processing plant then there is less incentive to make sure they are reared to the highest standards of hygiene, health, and public safety. If the chemical treatment is not comprehensive and fully effective there is a risk of serious illness arising.

Many people do not like the taste of their drinking water and believe that is because of the chlorine treatment. They could also have an aversion to chicken if they think the flavour will be affected by chlorine washing.

I don’t know if chlorine washing, disinfectant cleansing or chemical cleansing or whatever we call it affects the taste. After the treatment, most of the disinfectant should be removed by washin.

It might depend on the individual. The taste of drinking water does not concern me but on the other hand I detest the sulphites used in production of white wines, though others seem happy.

I agree. However we must be careful not to put our home chicken industry on an undeserved pedestal. 2 Sisters is our biggest chicken processor but has a chequered hygiene history. To protect consumers we need a better policing system.

The other main processor, the Faccenda Group, has had problems too. Between them they handle most of the chicken sold in the UK. My understanding is that animal husbandry is not that good either, because of the push for lower prices.

The Food Standards Agency started publishing campylobacter figures for supermarket chicken a few years ago, then it delegated testing to the companies and now it is not even publishing quarterly figures. We must not offend business. Improvements have been made, suggesting that further advances could be made if pressure remained. In the meantime, the advice remains that raw chicken should not be washed for reasons of safety.

You can tell in any supermarket how important chicken is in our diet. Whole aisles are stacked to the tops of the chiller cabinets with chicken in various forms and as the major constituent in most ready meals, especially including Chinese, Indian and other oriental dishes. It also comes in many canned and packet foodstuffs from soups to meat pies. Such prominence should command the highest standards of husbandry and hygiene.

The major supermarkets generally perform well and have invested heavily to safeguard the product because its potential for reputational damage is immense. But they are all reliant on a handful of processing plants that have managed to secure a dominant position in the supply chain. This puts the retailers one step removed from the producers
who supply the processors and it seems that improvements are required on both sides.

Much of this chicken comes from abroad and outside the EU, I believe. I wonder just how well good hygiene and husbandry rules are observed in practice, and who monitors them.

We need more people trained to do regular random inspections and to apply penalties for infractions, to improve further the integrity of our food.

I’d like to see a national movement to buy UK grown produce.

Many of us already do buy food from the UK whenever possible. Sadly some people can only afford the cheapest, so no choice there. There are many people who could afford UK food prices but just want to save money. They are the ones that need to be persuaded to choose the more sustainable option and support UK industries. I wonder how we do that.

More inspections can be done if the companies are prepared to fund them unless we expect the government is prepared to pay. Are we prepared to pay higher taxes to do this and sort out the potholes, etc. I think we should.

Producing chicken meat requires, essentially, food and housing and, I imagine, little labour? Why can we not produce home-grown chicken at a price that will compete with the threatened USA version, for example. Is it the price of feed? We are a good cereal producer so should we not encourage more farmland devoted to cereal production?

I’d be interested to have someone knowledgable, with no agenda, to explain just how the UK could produce more of its own food at sensible prices. Perhaps our departure from the EU might be a factor that will help?

It’s all down to economics. Each year (this one will be an exception) Eastern European workers arrive to work on UK farms because this costs less than employing our own citizens. This article is rather emotive but I don’t doubt what it says about cheap foreign labour: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/sep/28/blood-sweat-deceit-west-midlands-poultry-plant

This article deals with the low cost labour used in a processing plant, not in the production of the birds. Given that low cost (minimum wage?) labour is used – as in other industries and services – it doesn’t address the issue of why US chicken would be more competitive.

I’m just looking for the reasons as to why the UK might not be up to this.

I’m not sure where we will get the information but if, as has frequently been suggested, chlorine washing is used to compensate for lower standards, these are presumably used to reduce production costs. I remember when chicken was regarded as something of a treat and now it is cheap meat.

Our Food Standards Agency, which Which? played a part in its creation, seems to have no information about chlorine-washed chicken or hormone treated beef. It is well placed to offer reliable information about these practices but does not do so, and in the past n years I believe that it is being hamstrung by whichever government is in power.

Does anyone else believe that a government agency should have some independence? I wonder how many politicians of any political affiliation have a reasonable understanding of food safety issues.

As I said elsewhere, Wavechange – I think the government is rolling the pitch in preparation for a deal that many of us will not like. Luckily, we live in an age where accurate information is easily accessible and government moves to stifle discussion will be pointless.

I hope not, John. What concerns me is the amount of misinformation.

Lazar says:
23 June 2020

If we hadn’t voted for Brexit we would not be having this debate!

.. And wasn’t Brexit supposed to be about taking back control?

Sue Davies wrote in her introduction: “The US has made it clear it wants us to accept products that use production methods not permitted here.

That could mean we’re eating hormone-treated beef, chlorinated chicken and vegetables grown with higher levels of pesticides – all legal in the US, but not yet in the UK.

And it won’t be as simple as choosing better food – these products will go into the catering sector, unlabelled in cafes, restaurants and canteens – and a deal could also restrict the labels put on food, such as origin labels.”

At present, I doubt that many of us know much about where food comes from if we eat out. Maybe we should be asking for this information. It concerns me that we could be denied information about whether chicken has been disinfected or cattle have been injected with hormones. I remember claims that leaving Europe would give us more control.

I also remember claims that leaving Europe would give us more control. I think that largely related to dropping some of the silly requirements of EU regulations that added cost without value to our way of life. Unfortunately, I think that philosophy got converted in favour of using our new-found control to lower standards in order to increase market share for UK exports by undercutting EU production. If that is a fair deduction, I cannot agree with it. Wherever possible we should align ourselves with the higher standards of Europe but find ways of adding value that would justify the higher cost [and – possibly – lower profit level but making the goods more appealing to a world market..

After Brexit, I feel it would be in our economic and commercial interests – and improve our international status – to steer a course that gave us a reputation for the best quality, safety and value at a fair price rather than as a dumping ground for inferior American food produce. Initially the price of American foodstuffs will be competitive, and appear cheap, but that price will be used as a pile-driver to force down the cost of UK production until it is unsustainable and our producers go out of business.

The unspoken reason why the UK is not self-sufficient in food is that we have become over-populated relative to our natural resources and productivity levels.

Hey Wavechange and all,

Yes, the point about consumer choice and labelling is really important. The US’s own negotiating objectives with the UK desire the removal of “unjustified commercial requirements (including unjustified labelling) that affects new technologies.”

And recent US trade negotiations with other countries have suggested they’re very adamant on this point.

I think I’ve shared this here before, but Adam and I built this ‘Trade Deals’ site to give greater insight into Which?’s work in the area: https://campaigns.which.co.uk/trade-deals/

There’s a longer piece by Sue on there, giving further analysis on what the deal could mean, labelling etc. – there’s a link to it in the Food section: ‘Latest: UK’s food safety regime under threat in US talks >’

Oscar

Thanks Oscar. I have printed the January 2020 policy paper for later reading.

Unfortunately the document accessed via the link is not really suitable for printing and keeping.

Thanks Oscar – I have been following food issues, particularly those related disinfection of chicken as an alternative to better standards.

It is very sad that food safety is in the hands of politicians and not just those in the UK.

Adrian Ambroz says:
26 June 2020

https://capx.co/the-mail-on-sundays-campaign-against-us-food-imports-is-a-new-low/
https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/antibiotic-use-in-livestock
https://globalvisionuk.com/5-ways-of-defending-british-farm-standards-in-trade-negotiations/
If Which readers are concerned about food standards they may like to read the following that don’t rely on hysteria. How many of the millions of British visitors to the US have suffered food poisoning as opposed to those visiting Europe? British lamb is still banned in the USA
PS I will never eat another sandwich bought from M&S

https://capx.co/the-mail-on-sundays-campaign-against-us-food-imports-is-a-new-low/
https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/antibiotic-use-in-livestock
https://globalvisionuk.com/5-ways-of-defending-british-farm-standards-in-trade-negotiations/
If Which readers are concerned about food standards they may like to read the following that don’t rely on hysteria. How many of the millions of British visitors to the US have suffered food poisoning as opposed to those visiting Europe?
PS I will never eat another sandwich bought from M&S

John – The policy paper is a simple pdf that can be saved or printed: https://campaigns.which.co.uk/trade-deals/wp-content/uploads/sites/31/2020/01/5e2f163d92b97-Trade-deals-v4-2.pdf  

Yes, Wavechange – As I said, I printed the January 2020 policy paper with no difficulty, but it was the graphic-laden colour-rich Trade Deals overview that came up immediately on opening the link that was unsuitable [although the print preview showed it in feint greyscale, it was so full of click-on captions and expandable boxes that it was clearly not designed for anything other than screen viewing so I didn’t proceed to print]. A quick read was sufficient.

Perth42 – Thanks for the list of articles which I shall read later.

I expect Which? to present the essential facts and information objectively and without hysteria, but I am not competent to judge whether that is the case on this issue and reading more and more literature is not helping.

As I have already said, I am biased against the chemical washing of chicken meat because, in such a competitive and price-sensitive industry, I think it could lead to shortcuts in animal husbandry and welfare, and in food preparation.

Overall, if our agriculture were structured better in relation to home demand I don’t think we should need to import chicken meat from anywhere else. I am hoping our total release from the strings that bind us to the EU will enable us to achieve this without having to worry any more about the CAP, subsidies, or infringing other states’ quotas.

Sorry John. My mistake.

According to The Soil Association, chlorine cleansing still fails to remove all of the bacteria on chickens.

“Research from Southampton University found that disease causing bacteria like listeria and salmonella ‘remain active’ after chlorine washing. Chlorine washing just makes it impossible to detect the bacteria in the lab, giving the false impression that the bacteria have been killed when they haven’t.”

To read the full article: http://www.soilassociation.org – Top 10 Risks from a UK=US Trade Deal

http://www.soilassociation.org – What is Chlorinated Chicken?

Thanks Beryl. I read these articles recently. It’s worth remembering that the Soil Association promote organic farming. I’m certainly thinking about buying more organic food but am concerned that we could not produce enough to meet our needs and of course it is more expensive for various reasons.

It’s well established that chemical disinfection using chlorine washes and other treatments is effective in reducing the numbers of bacteria on chicken but it only reduces the number. One of the problems with disinfection is that the chemical used may not be able to reach the bacteria, either because they are inside a bit of dirt or protected by a fold in the skin.

It is a pity a lot of data is a little old and, apparently, the methodology used to collect data differs in different countries. Comparisons are difficult. This BBC report – a year old – says that US salmonella infections are 6 times higher in the UK (per head of population) but that campylobacter was 50% higher in the UK.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47440562
Many will not care about this enough to alter their buying habits. If, for some illogical reason, we will not be able to put the USA as the source of imported food then the least I want is to see UK marked on homegrown food, including in prepared food and in restaurants. I hope we have a cleaned-up act of production and inspection to underpin that.
Incidentally, we already buy (EU approved) chlorine washed salad stuff in the UK.

We certainly do use chlorine washes for bagged salad. It’s not really practical to wash lettuce thoroughly before bagging it, as it would not keep. Perhaps the easy answer is to make our own salad.

The current concerns could raise awareness of the benefits of home-produced food. Alfa gave us an example of a cauliflower that was marked UK/France.

Rather than dissect the minutiae of chemical cleansing/disinfection, my view is that there would remain a risk to public health and a threat to proper rearing and preparation of the chickens for market so we should not even entertain the notion. For that reason I feel it would be better to insist on a total ban on such processes with no compromises, no dilution of the policy, and no hostages to fortune.

We know that the cooking of chicken in some commercial establishments is not fail-safe [and probably never will be everywhere] so we might as well ensure that the meat has a fighting chance of being safe in the first instance by not allowing a process that could allow the farm hygiene standards to be weakened. Once chemically-washed imports are permitted similar processes will be introduced here but there is no guarantee that UK chicken producers would achieve the same standards as American producers. Of course, they could be superior . . . in which case why change?

I thought you had previously suggested that we could have disinfected chicken as an alternative as long as it was labelled, John. Good husbandry and processing does help and so does disinfectant washing. Perhaps what we should push for is the opportunity to make our own decisions about how food is produced and sold in the UK, irrespective of what the US wants. It could be a grand opportunity to support our own farmers.

Do we really need to import Danish bacon and New Zealand lamb?

Yes, that was my position and I still generally – but with some reluctance – support that for home cooking and consumption, but I have recently become more worried about commercial chicken products, take-aways and restaurant meals where I suspect the information will not be readily provided and where the trade agreement might indeed proscribe it.

Knowing the way things get promoted I can imagine labels and information notices saying “all our chicken meat has been specially cleansed for your safety and convenience”; it would come over as a plus point.

In essence we can make all our own decisions in future on how our food is produced – but if we want tariff-free or reduced-tariff access to the American market for UK production then we will have to concede something that suits their exporters.

Danish bacon is possibly better than home-produced bacon – fewer antibiotics to start with.

New Zealand lamb is nearly as good as Welsh lamb. I don’t know whether the UK has the right conditions to be self-sufficient in lamb. Mutton, perhaps.

I really don’t know how all this will work out, John. My interests lie in the safety and science involved in our food supply and I cannot offer useful comment about trade deals.

As far as I know antibiotics were phased out as growth promoters in the EU long ago but they can still be used for treating sick animals. I hope this is what happens in practice. It would be interesting to know how self-sufficient we could be in lamb and other products.

According to Shefalee Loth’s article in the July edition of Which? Magazine, “current EU rules on the restrictions of antibiotics in farming are set to be strengthened on 20 January 2022 and routine antibiotic use on groups of animals will be banned. This upcoming EU ban is already in place in Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands, where antibiotic use has dropped significantly. Denmark and the Netherlands use around half the antibiotics per pig as in the UK.

I wonder why antibiotics were ever used as growth promoters in farming. Scientists had been warning of the dangers of this practice for years before it was banned in the EU. Their use was banned in the EU in 2006 and in the US in 2017. Many other countries still allow the practice. It’s always encouraging when some countries take a lead in tackling problems.

Here is an article from a US perspective: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/13/chlorinated-chicken-poultry-threat-to-us-uk-trade-deal-post-brexit.html It’s good to see that Which? gets a mention.

There is some information about US approved disinfectant treatments: “…the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved several antimicrobial rinses in poultry processing, including chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate and peroxyacids.”

This article exemplifies the US lack of. understanding of the UK’s general reluctance and reservations in all things pertaining to change.

Caution, whether politically or economically oriented is an ingrained attribute of the British psyche. We saw this during parliamentary heated Brexit debates in The Commons and more recently in the daily COVID-19 bulletins and the reluctance to acknowledge the importance of face coverings to prevent the spread of the virus.

Negotiations between the US and the UK need to focus on the need for regular UK inspections at the places where the chickens are reared and not rely upon media speculative hearsay to establish the facts about whether conditions over there are any different to here.

Scientists on both sides of ‘the pond’ need to examine their consciences as well as pooling their experience and acquired knowledge to establish the ethics and safety of the chemicals used to clean the chickens and the hormones fed to them to increase the yield of their meat.

The alternative seems to rest upon the resumption of negotiations with the EU. After all, they stand to lose their largest importer of chickens when we finally exit the EU in December.

I was not endorsing what it says, Beryl. It was interesting to see Which? getting a mention.

For the sake of balance, I wonder what the US think of some of the articles in our press, which are not always well informed.

It would indeed be good if we all had a good idea of what goes on in poultry processing.

EU Chicken (including UK) – 15-20% salmonella rates
US Chicken – When using chorine dioxide solution 2%

Only 10% of the processing plants in the US actually use chlorine washes.

The argument that chicken in our supermarkets and foodstuffs ‘presently’ is produced with the welfare of the chicken in mind is laughable, it is little or no better than in the US but considerably more expensive.

Which should be campaigning to bring attention to the intensive farms here in the UK and those in the EU that we use already that have practices that are appalling.

Educate consumers to choose better-produced meat. This is where money should be spent.

No point banning cheaper US chicken when our intensive farms are just as bad.

I’d like to see more facts presented and less emotive statements so we can have a reasoned debate. It seems the issue is less about the wash itself used in the final processing, which is said to pose no threat to our health, as that it can “remedy” poorer husbandry. We, in the UK, are not necessarily squeaky clean in husbandry and processing.

As above and in the CNBC report it seems the UK has much better salmonella record but poorer campylobacter than the USA. I believe from some reports that salmonella is very substantially reduced by freezing. If we import from the USA will not the chicken be frozen?

If we do choose to import chicken from the USA then I see no reason why that should affect the EU providing the chicken we export to them is not chlorine (or other) washed. Unless “principled“ politics is invoked ( if such a concept were to exist).

BlueSkySeas makes a good point about intensive farms, at least in my view. There are plenty of emotive videos about poultry farming and processing but it would be helpful if we could all have an insight into how our food is produced.

More social distancing would be a start.

Yes, but I think I used that joke.

There is another petition that has well over £1m signatures so far NFUonline

Every little helps.

Thanks for the reminder, Alfa. I was aware of the petition but want to use a different email address in case I receive spam. I once contacted an MP (not local) about his campaign and that resulted in a lot of junk mail.

🙂 I also used an email address usually reserved for prospective junk mail.

Now signed. 🙂

There are already over 800 US-style mega-farms in the UK. You can hardly call them farms but are more like factories. There are suggestions that 70% of supermarket meat originates from a factory farm.

These factory farms are bad for the environment and bad for animal welfare. Cows don’t go into the fields to eat grass, but all their feed has to be grown and transported, again bad for the environment.

We can already look at the code on an egg and find out where it came from.

I believe all our food should be coded to give us the choice of who we buy from and where it was produced. Many people won’t care, but for those who do, we should be given the information to make up own minds. In the case of poultry, how they are cleansed as the method is likely to remain on the food.

Are the US proud of the chicken they want us to accept? Or are they off-loading the rubbish?

Any farmer or government proud of their product should not be ashamed to put their name to it if they want us to have confidence in it.

It seems inevitable that food production has to be highly efficient to satisfy the needs in our densely populated island at competitive prices. Otherwise farmers would go out of business against cheap imports.

If we regard meat as essential then whatever the conditions it is indeed a factory – an animal is raised purely for slaughter. About two thirds (in area) of our agricultural holdings are grassland so best suited to animals. Maybe we can accept that large enterprises are essential for economy but we could legislate for, and police, more humane conditions?

Perhaps our exit from the EU will give us more scope to improve conditions, if we so choose.

A problem we have is the inflated price of agricultural land. I would have thought it would be linked directly to its ability to produce acceptable profits from farming, but it seems more like a speculators market and its ability to attract subsidies. Perhaps if we could remove rich people’s subsidies and designate land as for agricultural use only we might end up with a better farming economy?

Alfa – It would do no harm to keep pushing for information about where our food comes from. I’m sure many of us do prefer to buy food from the UK and if we are given the information, from named local farms.

I am not aware that the chemical treatments used for disinfecting meat are harmful and for me the real issue is the mass production methods used to give us cheap meat.

Malcolm – It would be interesting to explore what you say in your last sentence, though maybe this Convo is not the best place.

I think the availability of agricultural and horticultural land and its cost is an essential component in assessing the economics of UK food production, and impacts directly upon whether we can, for example, provide better stock density and the cost of the product. Without a viable UK food industry we would rely even more on imports from far away places over which we can have little direct control of standards.

Sadly we would not manage to produce enough food (or in some cases afford it) if we adopted organic farming but there has got to be a compromise between these ideals and current practices, certainly in chicken. production. The current debate about farming practices might help to encourage more people to take an interest in their food and where it is. produced.

One way to move forward is to raise awareness of the importance of producing and buying UK and even local food, and obviously that needs produce to be labelled.

Waitrose is not planning to sell disinfected chicken or hormone-injected beef: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-53179588

That’s great but it would be great to see the supermarkets with a larger market share and fast food outlets say the same.

This is as good a way as any to react, should we reach a deal with the USA. Providing the USA doesn’t take Waitrose to court for restrictive behaviour 🙁

I would expect M&S to take the same tack.

Unless food is proven to be dangerous to health I believe information on origin and treatment gives those who worry about such things the choice, at least when buying food for home cooking.

That point about possible legal action was made in the comments following the BBC article.

One of the aims of those who wanted to leave Europe was to gain more control of our own country and before we even get there our food standards are threatened.

That’s the sad irony of the situation. People didn’t realise [or weren’t told by the leaders of the Leave campaign, nor warned by the leaders of the Remain campaign] that the price of unshackling ourselves from the EU – in which we had some influence – would be domination by America in order to replace the market we lose on the continent.

Be that as it may, we still need to establish whether there is a real risk to food safety and animal welfare from the consumption of chemically disinfected chicken in restaurants, pubs, and canteens etc, and from the inclusion of such meat in ready meals and pre-prepared foods. We need to know the true scale of the risks and the extent to which they can be mitigated by control measures, and other procedures in the UK market. I am biased against chlorine-washed chicken but the argument must be made on a reasoned and scientific basis free of prejudice. I feel that Which? has got close to that position but a better evidential case is required.

If first division retailers [in terms of food safety credentials] like Waitrose and M&S won’t sell it, the next rank [Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrison, Asda, Coop, Aldi, Lidl, etc] might be uneasy about offering it. If the market is too small it won’t be worth the cost of importing it. American production will depend on a high volume market and the production cost margin might not be as attractive as we think.

For UK agriculture to win this argument it must make sure that home-produced chicken is guaranteed to be as squeaky clean as it can possibly be and, as Malcolm has pointed out, our recent record does not cover us in glory.

I fancy a couple of boiled eggs.

The EU has used legal action (or threat of) against the UK effectively ensuring we toe the line (my impression). They now want us to submit to the European court of Justice when we leave, overriding out own justice system, for particular matters. I do not want us to be subjugated in that way.

Incidentally, French farmers get 2.5 times the subsidy our farmers get. A level playing field is what the EU say we should subscribe to. It seems like that level playing field is being produced with a steamroller.

This is where Which is contributing to what amounts to fake news.

With only 10% of chickens in US being ‘disinfected’, they are not going to make the journey here.

Beef in US is in fact not packed with hormones.

N white says:
26 June 2020

MPs. their families, close and distant, their friends and supporters will all be eating US food and risk disease.

I am quite concerned about this Which campaign, it is dishonest in its figures and presentation.

Only 10% of US chickens have a chlorine solution used. They are unlikely to end up in the UK when there is no demand for them.

Pigs:
It is illegal to give pigs hormones in the US for example, yet Which say pigs are hormone-treated.

United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) website:
“No steroid hormone implants are approved for growth purposes in dairy cows, veal calves, pigs, or poultry’.”

Beef:
With beef it is slightly different, most US cattle will live most of their lives in a field. And sometimes these can be very big fields – cattle ranches of hundreds of thousands of acres are not uncommon in the US. Most US cattle will be sent to a feedlot to be ‘finished’ for four to six months before going to market. Male calves are castrated to prevent them from fighting amongst themselves in the fields or impregnating their sisters.

Although this makes them less aggressive, (and a Santa Gertrudis bull can be very aggressive) it also slows down their growth and reduces their muscle mass. So Hormone Implants are put behind a steer’s ear to drip small amounts of androgens or oestrogens into the animal to increase muscle growth. Cattle with hormone implants produce leaner beef. The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) routinely monitors residue levels to ensure the safety of the beef being produced using this method.

A 500 gram steak from a hormone implanted steer contains only 7 nanograms of estrogenic activity while an adult man produces 136,000 nanograms each day, an adult woman produces 513,000 [2] and a pre-pubescent child 41,000. And a 500 gram steak is a large steak, even in the US.

Not only are the hormones used in cattle naturally occurring in humans, they are also naturally occurring in many foods including Soy beans, Pinto beans, peanuts, eggs, butter and milk. There are four times as many hormones in milk as in the same weight of beef from a hormone implanted steer, 40 times as much in the same weight of butter, 80 times as much in eggs, 14,000 times as much in peanuts and 130,000 times as much in Pinto Beans. But the big hormone containing food is soy beans – tofu contains 113.5 million nanograms of estrogenic activity per 500g from isoflavones and defatted soy flour has more than 750 million nanograms per 500g.

So an adult woman, drinking a soy latte with her scrambled eggs on buttered, soy-flour toast for breakfast, could be described as being ‘stuffed full of hormones’ – but this will have nothing to do with the steak that she had for dinner the night before.

By the way, not all US beef is raised using hormone implants. The US also produces naturally raised beef which must be verified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US produces organic beef: no implanted hormones are allowed and the cattle must be fed an organic diet. Organic beef must also verified by the USDA. So despite the claims on the Which? website: that ‘the US wants labelling to be reduced’: all naturally raised and organic beef in the US is ‘labelled to verify that hormone implants have not been used in its production’. So is this more misinformation from Which?

However, just as in the UK, US naturally raised and organic beef is more expensive than Feedlot beef. And yes, the UK has feedlots too, although meat from UK feedlots is generally called intensively reared and is rarely mentioned on the packaging but can be found on the website if you search for it.

EU meat producers don’t need to castrate their cattle and then drip feed them tiny amounts of hormones because Europeans in general eat younger meat, often very young, milk fed, veal calves. (If Which? were really interested in animal welfare you might expect a campaign against this practice.) So there is no need to castrate animals that will never live long enough to reach sexual maturity.

Many EU beef farmers prefer Charolaise and Limousin cattle that grow very quickly, are late to mature and can be ‘finished out’ at 20 months. While in the US the top two price grades of beef, Prime and Choice, that account for over 50% of all US beef, are for 30 to 42 months old animals. US Beef that is less than 30 months old is called Select, the 3rd price grade.

Chicken:
‘Chlorinated chicken’ is a made up food intended to scare consumers into believing that the practice of washing dead chicken meat is somehow unusual. A lot of raw food is washed or cleaned before it is sold. Or the packaging instructs the purchaser to wash it at home before use. When you rinse spinach leaves under a tap in the UK – you are washing them in ‘Chlorinated’ water but I have never heard anyone worry about ‘chlorinated spinach’.

Yet the Which? twitter account ran a video of dead, plucked, chicken carcasses being dunked in a liquid supposedly containing chlorine but unless this is a very old video, it was more likely to contain peracetic acid – a weak acid with about the same acidity as vinegar and enough to kill most pathogens. It is also used to wash fruit.

This video was intended to horrify viewers into signing the NFU/Which? petition but is this any different to apples being washed in a trough before packaging? Or carrots being sprayed on a conveyor belt? Should we be horrified at anti-fungal wax being sprayed on lemons? Fresh food sold in supermarkets has been washed before packaging for years. In fact, we have gotten so used to washed raw food that most of the cases of food poisoning currently recorded in the US are from people buying organic food and forgetting about why their grandmothers always washed and peeled vegetables and fruit or why they always slightly over-cooked chicken and pork.

Are we really horrified at a dead chicken carcass being washed in water containing chlorine dioxide or peracetic acid to remove any pathogens, how do they react to UK sheep farmers forcing live sheep to swim across a pool of insecticide and fungicide – otherwise known as sheep dipping? Where is the Which? outrage at this practice? Are dead chickens more sensitive than live sheep? Of course not, there isn’t an outrage or a petition because even the most urban Which? reader probably knows that this is a well-meaning process to remove lice, scab and mites from sheep – not because UK sheep farmers use ‘lower standards’ or put too many sheep in their paddocks. I am sure Which? would be outraged if US trade negotiators tried to use sheep dipping as an excuse to limit UK lamb imports.

Veal & sheep dips:
However, this lack of outrage at milk veal calves and sheep dip also makes it more obvious that the Which? petition is not about animal welfare but about stopping a US-UK trade deal. While I understand there will be commercial interests who do not want more competition in the UK agricultural markets, Which? is a consumer welfare organisation: It is meant to be standing up for UK consumers not helping UK producers avoid competition – the antithesis of a consumer group.

You ingest more chlorine drinking a glass of UK tap water than you would by eating a whole US ‘chlorine washed’ chicken.

Much of this is from a Catherine McBride article out today.

It would be most useful if we could have a comment from Which? in response to this information from BlueSkySeas.

I admit that even if there were no questions over American food production methods I would still be opposed to a trade deal that prohibited any control over imported food that we are capable of producing in the UK. If that is protectionism, then so be it.

I believe it is in the national interest that we protect our farmers and growers from unnecessary competition. There is not much point in providing substantial subsidies and reliefs that also have beneficial affects on the environment, our wildlife and our landscape if the value of such a policy is lost to foreign imports. By contrast, the value to the USA of access to the UK food market for American meat is but a cotton bud in the overall scheme of things. We buy plenty of American agricultural products – fruit, vegetables, grain, seed oils, tobacco, liquor, and others because we cannot be self-sufficient in those products or meet market demands; the less we procure from America the better bargaining position we shall be in with the EU and Commonwealth countries where we have a much stronger interest in developing our own export trades and partnerships through mutual reciprocal arrangements.

Hi BlueSkySeas – I believe that the article you are referring to is here: https://www.brexit-watch.org/is-which-a-consumer-watchdog-or-fearmonger-for-vested-interests-you-decide

I don’t know much about poultry farming and processing in the US and the UK, but I am disappointed by UK standards to the extent that I have been avoiding chicken for a few years. I’m a scientist, so I understand that ‘chlorinated chicken’ is a rather loose term for disinfection and as you have pointed out, peracetic acid is often used as a disinfectant.

Catherine McBride is an economist. Looking through the authors of brexit.watch.org I found one who had a first degree in zoology, but that’s it.

I am not disputing her claims (although the comment about peracetic acid betrays a lack of understanding) but feel that they need to be supported by good scientific evidence.

I don’t believe it’s the chlorine washing process per se that the EU finds unacceptable; it seems to be far more the fact that suppliers will tend to towards less hygienic farming practices generally, if they know the final product will be sanitised.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that it was this government who, in May this year, pushed through a vote against amendments to the agriculture bill which would have maintained standards as they currently are.

This debate has highlighted a need to examine our own animal husbandry conscience.

What is animal welfare?
Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition
Freedom from discomfort and exposure
Freedom from pain, injury and disease
Freedom from fear and distress
Freedom to express normal behaviour

http://www.parliament.uk – Livestock Super Farms
http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com – The Rise of the “Megafarm” – How British Meat is Made (Published in partnership with The Guardian.)
http://www.theguardian.com – Revealed: Industrial-Scale Beef Farming Comes to the UK

John8:7 King John Version – Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Ian – I am disappointed that, on this issue, ‘government, he speak with forked tongue’.

At the top of this Conversation I pointed out the comments the DEFRA Secretary made to the NFU conference in February [https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/save-our-food-standards-campaign/#comment-1600403].

He remains in place, but No. 10 is working around him rather than through him and there is a general state of confusion about policy.

Indeed, wavechange that is the article I plagiarised.

I would imagine Catherine McBride has done her research and took advice from industry specialists.

Which should provide a full response to all points raised, because if they cannot demonstrate the facts provided by Catherine McBride in her article are bunkum, then Which needs to stop spending subscribers monies on advertising for this campaign and rethink?

At the moment I am certainly not convinced that Which’s campaign is in consumers interests or Which subscribers.

US National Chicken Council says only 10% of the processing plants in the US actually use chlorine washes.

This 10 % of chickens are the least likely to make their way across to the UK, with no demand here.

Our intensive chicken factories here in the UK and the EU are little or no better than the US.

I agree. I’d like to see Which concentrate on getting our own house in order by campaigning for better conditions and far better labelling to indicate good animal husbandry.

Incentives to do so for producers.

When we have “campaigns” I want to see a proper exposition of the relevant facts. A balanced presentation so I can make up my own mind. I don’t respond well to emotive and partial cases that try to lead me in a particular direction.

Earlier I suggested that it seemed most likely that if we did import chicken from the US it would be frozen, a process that I believe would much reduce such things as salmonella and campylobacter.

We do not have a squeaky clean animal husbandry industry in this country, nor in Europe, so we need to keep a proper perspective on this. However, if we want cheap food that does come with penalties, such as Beryl’s worry about A4 chicken space.

Hello again BlueSkySeas – Actually you did not plagiarise Catherine’s article because you acknowledged the source and identified the date. Plagiarism is unacknowledged copying. 🙂

You would imagine that CM has done her research and taken advice from industry specialists. If I you were trying to find out facts rather than opinions, might there be better ways than relying on those who have a vested interest? I would prefer that Which? pays attention to independent people with established expertise in the subject, as far as this is possible.

What we can agree on is that there is a need for improvements in animal husbandry and welfare and I would add improvements in the processing industry, which has been criticised in the past. In the UK, chicken was a bit of a treat back fifty years ago and now it is cheap, thanks to mass production.

On sustainability grounds, why should we be transporting chicken from the US to the UK when we can produce our own? We cannot yet grown bananas (but give global warming time) but there is a lot to be said for being self-sufficient in our food supply.

Wavechange, it is quite feasible that the perceived intension is to export chicken reared in the UK that has not been chlorine washed to the EU to comply with their strict requirements at a more lucrative return than we would expect to pay for chlorine washed chickens imported from the US. In the great economic scheme of things, chicken is perceived as nothing more than just another commodity.

I would be interested to learn the reason that necessitates just 10% of chickens being chlorine washed. Are these chickens reared in less hygienic conditions than the remaining 80%?

These are questions the FSA need to address before any trade agreements are finalised.

Thanks for pointing out what should have been obvious, Beryl. Of course transporting animals can be very stressful.

Unless things have changed I believe that it is Germany that is most opposed to chlorine washing and other means of disinfection in the EU.

Interesting point.

Dead ones don’t count Wavechange, assuming they are slaughtered and prepared here.

Indeed, but live chicken commands a higher price. It’s not a subject that I know about but here are some figures: https://www.statista.com/statistics/513432/live-poultry-export-united-kingdom-uk-value/

wavechange – Indeed, we need independent research rather than campaign jargon from vested interests on any side.

We’re never going to be self-sufficient in our food supply, too many people and too small an area, although we could do better than we do now. Countries that have a surplus in self-sufficiency tend to be large with relatively small populations e.g. Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, Ukraine, NZ, Canada……..

We are better than the lowest in food self-sufficiency such as Norway, Belgium, Haiti, Somalia, Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe, Armenia, Netherlands…….

We are pretty good at poultry about 75% self-sufficient apparently (Farmers Weekly) but they say unlikely to be fully self-sufficient in poultry but there could be significant growth.

Comes down to whether you believe the consumer should have limited choice and therefore shortfalls and higher prices without meaning better practices in animal husbandry as many more mega-farms will have to be built here in the UK –

– Or whether you are willing to continue to import as we do presently to meet demand, our being the 2nd largest importer of fresh chicken in the world after Germany, primarily from just EU sources or expand imports from the US providing lower costs to consumers & more choice, as we are the 6th biggest importer of frozen chicken in the world after China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Hong Kong & UAE.

I am not able to offer much informed comment here BlueSkySeas. As I have said I’m keen that we should be self-sufficient in food production, at least as far as is practical. We have well established practices that have generally provided us with safe meat, though I have my doubts about poultry husbandry and processing as I’ve mentioned before. I cannot provide any useful comment on whether UK or US methods are better because I have no access to reliable information. If we must import chicken then perhaps the best option is to import it from EU countries that share our present standards.

I’d rather discuss the science because that is where I have some knowledge.

Fair enough wavechange.

Thanks BlueSkySeas. In the UK we have often been told that UK food standards are better than in the US. I am aware that as consumers we have no way of knowing for sure, certainly not in the case of chicken. Further down this page I provided a link to an old video showing a single example of US chicken farming, maybe not typical and certainly not recent. For the sake of balance, here is a link to a video showing concern for what can happen in the UK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=yD4kpLiA2Qo&feature=emb_logo This dates from when there was concern about the 280k reported cases of campylobacter food poisoning. I was particularly upset because a neighbour and friend nearly died of a rare complication of severe campylobacter food poisoning. Comparing problems in growing chicken in the US and processing in the UK is not a very useful comparison but I believe it serves to illustrate that neither country is ‘squeaky clean’, as Malcolm put it.

I spoke to a local large-scale chicken farmer nearly three years ago and was very impressed by how much he knew about the problems in the industry. It would have been interesting to to see his operation with my own eyes.

Thanks for this, Sue. It’s very difficult to find detailed and unbiased information about food standards in the US and UK. I remain concerned that the pressure to improve UK standards for chicken farming and processing has been eased after all the publicity five or six years ago.

Thanks very much, Sue, for concisely setting out Which’s position [which I support]. I echo Wavechange’s comments on raising standards in poultry production and feel that should extend to all UK meat production. Such progress will not be advanced by allowing imports of food produced to lower standards than practiced in the UK and I would also hope that, as our standards improve further, the bar on imports will be raised accordingly so as not to undermine our animal health and welfare and our food hygiene standards.

It would be much appreciated if we could have a report back as soon as there is any news on progress with the government on this issue because the policy is far from clear at this moment.

The salient point being. If each chicken is reared in a space equal to the size of an A4 sheet in a closed environment with hundreds of other chickens for 35 days of a very short life, that’s an awful lot of chicken s**t.

Is that the real reason the US chlorine wash their chickens, and if so, why are we not doing the same here if we are guilty of practicing the same mega farming methods as the US?

Is there any evidence that suggests cases of salmonella or other bacillus type poisonings is any less in the US than here where we continue with exactly the same mega-type farming practices but without chlorine cleansing?

10% of chickens in US that are chlorine-washed, it reduces salmonella rates to 2% in US chickens that are treated.

The EU (inc UK) has a 15-20% rate of salmonella in chickens.

We are indeed as guilty as the US, EU and elsewhere of having closed environments in mega-type farming.

I have paid more attention to chicken processing than rearing but here is an article with an upsetting video: https://www.foodwhistleblower.org/blowing-the-whistle-on-big-chicken-the-inside-story-video/

This may not be typical of what happens in the US or in the UK, and standards may have improved, but as Beryl says the birds don’t have much space.

BlurSkySeas, do you know the reason why only 10% of US chickens are chlorinated?

No response….. Is it because these particular chickens are destined to cross over to the other side of ‘The Pond?’

UK consumers today are becoming a lot more curious and selective about the origins of the food they eat and are entitled to know the circumstances relating to the conditions upon which that food is reared and processed, before it is presented for sale in all retail food outlets.

It is not enough to ask consumers to protest against a new assignment or enterprise by casting their votes until a full open enquiry has been made, and essentially in cases where their health could be put in jeopardy.

This debate has certainly unearthed a few causes for concern about UK factory mega-farming practices and also questions about where it is heading in the future.

Yes, as previously mentioned.

With the 10% of chicken producers who use a chlorinated solution in the US, the salmonella rates in chicken are 2%

The EU/UK rates of salmonella in chicken are 15-20%

No. I have explained above, twice.

As this has been happening for some time in the 10% of US chicken producers, it seems unlikely they are keeping these chickens to ship them across the pond once the trade deal is signed. They are for US existing markets.

Particularly when outlets here in the UK say they won’t sell them. So there are no concerns for UK citizens, as they will have a choice of the 90% of US chickens that are ‘not’ produced using chlorinated chickens.

https://press.which.co.uk/whichstatements/which-response-to-aldi-announcement-that-it-will-not-sell-chlorinated-chicken-or-hormone-treated-beef/

This seems quite a good solution that I would expect many others to follow, given the likely weight of public opinion. Hopefully not just food retailers but also cooked food establishments. I’d also like to see the source of where food was actually produced, not packaged, to help me decide what to buy.

Many may not care about the source of their food or believe that the publicity given to, for example, chlorinated chicken (only 10% of US production) and hormone implanted beef may well not be harmful and stems from a degree of protectionism.

I’d like to see informed choice unless it can be shown that a product is harmful.

For many, animal welfare is a big issue. I’d suggest that one consequence of cheap meat is intensive (factory) farming that most countries employ, including the UK. We could buy RSPCA assured products if we want to minimise our personal support for such practices.

Incidentally, intensive living conditions abound throughout the world for humans as well, in refugee camps and the slums of major cities. What should we do about them?

I am also hoping this becomes a trend that by its own momentum neutralises a bad trade deal.

Mind you, there are certain popular food stores where the lead set by Aldi and others will not be followed if the imported foodstuff turns out to be cheaper.

Many of the sources already being used by Aldi in the EU will not be any better than the US.

If people buy intensively farmed meat whether in the UK, EU or US it will be much the same way produced.

I’d agree with Malcolm R, ref buying animal welfare focussed meat where we can.

I’d like Which to focus on this and educating people as well as putting pressure on supermarkets to widely promote organic/free-range/LEAF Marque/RSPCA Assured/outdoor reared and outdoor bred/Red Tractor Etc

To explain the differences and for the better practises perhaps subsidising farmers who provide better animal welfare produce, by retailers and perhaps the government.

This should be the campaign.

BlueSkySeas – ‘Chlorinated’ chicken (there are various chemicals used) is not the only way of disinfection used in the US. One of the other disinfectants used is peracetic acid, as mentioned in the article by Catherine McBride. There is no point in just looking at the percentage of carcasses that have been ‘chlorinated’.

I’m all for improvement in standards in animal husbandry but no-one seems to be pushing for higher standards in chicken processing.

It would appear I am missing something here. Stating “it is likely” means “it could be” and a term normally used to avoid the facts.

If only 10% of chicken production units are chlorinated there must be a reason for this.

For example: Are US chickens chlorinated before processing and packaging (suitably labelled) and then frozen before exported to large scale commercial food producers? In which case are we less likely to find a whole frozen chlorinated chicken in supermarket freezers, but we can expect to find prepared frozen chlorinated chicken portions packaged with their own specially labelled brand names such as Birds Eye?

I believe the UK is around 75% self sufficient in chicken meat. The potential is to increase that. We currently make up the extra by importing, some from the EU including Poland, some from the Far East – Thailand I think. I wonder just what their standards are like and how much supervision and checking we do on hygiene and husbandry? And I wonder just how much chicken we might import from the US.

https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/07/uk-vs-us-farming-whats-the-difference/

A new article on food standards. I think it is a pity to focus on chicken in a (to my mind) misleading way. No need. It uses “chemically” washed to describe US practice, a term presumably designed to produce an emotive reaction. Chlorine washing is not, as far as I am aware, at all harmful to the consumer. The real objection is that it may be (not “is” necessarily) used to compensate for a lower standard of husbandry- such as raising chickens in poor conditions.

So why do we not produce the evidence to support the concern of poor husbandry rather than focus on something that seems of no real consequence?

I would simply like to see the facts exposed.

It is repeatedly said that chlorine washing only applies to 10% of US production.

I wonder why we do not examine animal husbandry in the UK where 75% of our chicken is produced. We should also look at the processors and question their practices. I’d like to ensure our home sources are performing properly as a priority before raising fears about what is unlikely to be a major supplier.

I also wonder about the standards of our other chicken imports from Poland and a Thailand. Who examines those sources?

The reference to chemical washing is correct, as I have explained above. Chlorine treatment is only one of the methods of disinfection in use.

As our Government are using Brexit to make us leave the EU single market and customs union, under the aegis of taking back control of our borders, I think we should be aiming for import controls on food.

In particular, I do not want to see cheap goods from foreign factory farms undercutting the safety and welfare standards that we expect UK farms to use.

So far Which? seem to have referred to chlorine-washed chicken- although in this intro they describe it as “chlorinated” chicken, which could imply the meat contained chlorine.

Of course the term “chemically washed” is technically correct. I’ve probably just done that to myself in the shower. That was not the point I was making. Using a term “chemically” is, I believe, likely to raise an emotive rather than a rational response.

The marketing profession choose words that are designed to produce positive responses in potential customers; what they say is not untrue but it presents a partial, one sided view lacking in balance. I do not want to be presented with an approach like that from Which? However, it is an approach that is designed to lead many people to support a particular stance.

Once again I am probably on my own in expecting, or even wanting, balanced reporting.

What about reporting on US husbandry, that in Poland and Thailand, and practices in the UK production and processing industries?

The term ‘chlorinated chicken’ has been used in a highly emotive way for years. I suggest using ‘disinfected’ which covers all the possibilities.

Malcolm, I agree that Which? (and others) seem to be using “chlorine washed” and “chlorinated” as pejorative terms here.

As a consumer, I want my food to be safe to eat.

After that, if I choose to eat meat, I would like the comfort of being able to know that the animals involved have been raised in accordance with reasonable welfare standards.

Whilst in lock down, I have recently been experimenting with all sorts of different meal choices, as constrained by the remaining contents of my larder.

From that I know I could readily switch to a vegetarian diet, but I don’t think I much fancy going to a vegan one.

I thought the article to which you linked, Malcolm, was fair in its terminology. Frankly, I’m far more concerned with the rampant overuse of antibiotics in animals, plants and insects. Even in the UK apiarists will feed their bees antibiotics as a matter of course. In my youth I spent several months on a farm in Scotland keeping bees. None was ever fed antibiotics then.

And this sentence was very worrying:

“The US currently uses 72 pesticides that are not approved for use in the UK. These include known carcinogens, possible endocrine disruptors, and those that cause harm to the development and reproductive systems of children.”

Seen in that light, concerns about having the potential Sunday roast dunked into a vat of chlorinated bleach pales by comparison.

The horse meat problem a few years ago was a demonstration of what can go wrong with our food supply. If someone is going to sell horse meat as beef it’s highly unlikely that it would go through all the testing and safety procedures that we require to make sure that meat is safe.

I would like the UK to be self-sufficient in food, as far as possible, and I don’t feel that we have adequate knowledge and control over what is produced in other countries.

I agree about self sufficiency of food we are able to produce. We can set our own standards and have the potential to ensure they are maintained, simply because we have both easy access to the producers and processes and the ability to apply legal remedies where necessary.

The key is, however, to ensure we have an adequately resourced inspection and enforcement service. Just as we need for product safety. While we might keep campaigning for “maintained” standards unless we also campaign for, and get, proper “policing” and deterrent penalties it will all be just so much hot air.

One way of becoming more self-sufficient in meat production would be to eat less of it, as Derek has mentioned. It’s often suggested we should limit the amount of red meat and processed meat for health reasons. If we are already producing 75% of our current supply of chicken there should be plenty to go round, especially since many are eating more than is good for them.

Apparently we are not that fond of dark chicken meat like the legs, favouring the breast. Personally I think there is more flavour in the leg and thigh. Instead of exporting it and importing white meat perhaps we should be persuaded to use more of it. It is good cold with salad and in pies.

There is a huge untapped resource in our gardens, at least for the many lucky enough to have them. I will soon have a glut of runner beans, courgettes, new potatoes, cabbage, kale and raspberries. Perhaps a local neighbourhood scheme could redistribute surplus produce, at the village hall maybe or on a street corner?

Oh, and we should grow our own flowers. Why fly them in from Africa and South America?

When I was working, colleagues used to bring in surplus produce from their gardens. In the past few weeks I have had donations of courgettes, tomatoes, strawberries and raspberries.

I agree about not importing flowers. Even without a garden, it’s easy to grow pot plants.

I was concerned about this paragraph in the article –

While antibiotic use in the US dropped by 30% in 2017 it has risen again and US consumer groups are concerned the same antibiotics are not being used under the guise of disease prevention.

It is open to conflicting interpretations and I suggest the word “not” is superfluous. On such a crucial issue absolute clarity is essential.

I am worried about the possible consequences for UK agriculture if American food products that can compete with ours gain a toehold in the UK market. Chicken is already a cheap meat for consumers and I doubt that the price of imported US chicken will be much lower unless there are artificial support mechanisms, possibly infringing WTO rules if detected. But the main market will be in the food processing and catering industries where, because of volume, a small price advantage could significantly alter the balance of supply.

I don’t see why we cannot swiftly achieve 100% self-sufficiency in chicken production. In frozen form it is a storable commodity so fluctuations in demand can be accommodated without resort to importation.

We should also be able to move to full self-sufficiency in beef and pork with the right agricultural strategy. I am not sure about lamb and, although English and Welsh lamb meat is as good as any from other countries, it might depend on the balance of production between continued rearing for wool and early slaughter for meat, and on which is economically the most valuable trade. I would prefer to import lamb meat from New Zealand rather than from other countries as it would bolster our trading opportunities.

Before we start arguing with other nations about food standards I agree that we should ensure that our home production methods are squeaky clean and world-leading at every level even at the risk of some short-term price penalty since, in my view, it would be an investment in self-sufficiency, better farming, and potential export markets.

I acknowledge that my approach is fundamentally protectionist but it is underpinned by food safety and hygiene concerns. I thought that doing what we want was the cornerstone of taking back control.

Thanks for responding Sue, but I am afraid I still cannot understand the phrase “US consumer groups are concerned the same antibiotics are not being used under the guise of disease prevention“. Does it mean that there is concern that “the same antibiotics are being used”, OR that the US consumer groups are concerned that “the same antibiotics should not be used . . . “.

I thought the contents of my comments throughout this and other Conversations demonstrate that I do not need convincing that it would be harmful to relax our controls and lower standards as part of a trade deal.

The concern with US chicken is about the way birds are raised, maybe in poor conditions, not about any bad effect on us from the washing when processed. When we import chicken from Thailand, Poland and say ” they have to comply with our laws” just what control do we have, what inspections do we make, of the conditions in which their producers actually raise birds? Even in the UK we have seen how, despite “our laws“ , there have been significant failures.

I’d suggest we need to put our own house in order with a better food inspection and enforcement regime.

Incidentally, our NFU are pressing for introducing GM crops and relaxing the use of pesticides.

The NFU is paid by farmers to represent their interests – which at the end of the day are largely commercial – so they are constantly on the look-out for higher yields and less depredation. It doesn’t necessarily have the interests of the country at heart, although to my mind if farming looks after consumers it will be good for farmers in the long run.

GM food is not currently grown in the UK but it is used in animal foodstuffs and can be used in food as long as the food is appropriately labelled: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-568547 A chicken does not need to be labelled if it is fed with GM food.

I will second that John. I have an ongoing issue with NFU regarding their unethical and bullying money making practices which is currently undergoing scrutiny with The Ombudsman. Which? Please take note!

Beryl – I think there has been a misunderstanding. In the context of this Conversation the NFU is the National Farmers’ Union, which is a representative organisation for the agricultural industry.

You are probably referring to NFU Mutual which is an insurance company no longer corporately connected to the National Farmers’ Union although agricultural interests have traditionally been a core sector of the business. Farm machinery insurance remains an important part of the business and it claims to be the largest rural insurer. Farmers get a discount on policies but it is a completely separate organisation and NFU Mutual does not have any involvement in crop or animal production.

John I admit I may have deviated a little from the main topic, but there is no doubt The NFU is closely associated with the insurance Mutual Company NFU, both also having their bases in Warwickshire.

Unlike most other UK insurances, NFU Mutual sells its policies predominantly through a network of tied agents which are located mainly in rural areas. At the end of 2018 NFU Mutual had over 3,800 employees, and 654 agents working out of 310 offices.This network enjoys a close relationship with the National Farmers Union (NFU). Many of the agents double as local union representatives. Many agents are self-employed and all are tied to NFU Mutual products.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thanks, Sue. I realised that was what Which? was trying to say but the words and meaning didn’t match.

As I commented originally, the meaning would have been clearly expressed if the word “not” had been omitted so it read “US consumer groups are concerned the same antibiotics are …. being used under the guise of disease prevention“. The “not” made it ambiguous because “concerned” can be interpreted in different ways.

All clear now!

Beryl – I think most farmers and rural customers would be appalled at the way your motor insurance claim has been handled by NFU Mutual. Motor insurance is such a competitive business, with a high level of churn as customers come and go, that it cultivates an aggressive style that epitomises the motor trade. What you have experienced besmirches the insurer’s rural roots so I hope you succeed with the Ombudsman. Others speak highly of it, of course, and home insurance customers seem happier with them than with other companies.

John, I think the NFU farmers need to take a quick peek over their neighbours hedge. They may be in for a few unpleasant surprises, but maybe we need to switch over to The Lobby if you wish to pursue this convo.

I don’t have an axe to grind with respect to either the National Farmers’ Union or NFU Mutual Insurance Group so I am quite content to drop this now.

Maybe the locals do things differently in Norfolk John 🙂

Everything is done differently in Norfolk, Beryl. There is even a well-worn expression “Normal for Norfolk”.

https://press.which.co.uk/whichstatements/which-comments-as-trade-and-agriculture-commission-membership-announced/f
”It’s staggering that consumers aren’t directly represented on such an important commission. “
I understood Which? had regular contact with government. Were they aware of the commission being set up and not invited to represent consumers?

The commission seems overloaded with farming interests-nearly 40% of the members listed.

I presume Which? will still lobby the commission and present it with information it gleans from consumer research?

The lack of a consumer representative on the commission is very disappointing, and almost certainly not accidental.

I get the impression the government regards Which? as an angry leftie protest group so sees no point in taking it seriously on food, product safety, trading standards, or anything else it raises. The government’s style is to just brush off the table anything it doesn’t like. I don’t see any signs of the government changing its attitude so Which? will have to behave differently I suppose if it wants to have any influence.