Brian Monteith: Stop squawking and cut our grocery bills

The furore over chlorinated chicken is just scaremongering, says Brian Monteith
The furore over chlorinated chicken is just scaremongering, says Brian Monteith
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With politicians joining many of us on holiday we are now officially in the silly season for news. Unfortunately, life is often stranger than fiction so it can be hard to tell what is a daft story and what is reality.

One such example that is doing the rounds this week is how Brexit will mean us carnivores will be poisoned by American chickens once we leave the EU. It is a typical piece of scaremongering and I thought it my duty in the pursuit of truth (and lower food prices) to point out why.

The story has come about because the UK Trade Minister, Liam Fox, is in the United States having discussions about a UK-US free trade deal that could be worth £40bn to our economy by 2030.

The US is one of the world’s largest exporters of chicken meat but it is banned from sale in Britain because of EU rules against chemical treatment used to reduce diseases like salmonella. One of the likely changes a trade deal would bring is to end that restriction.

An unholy alliance between the vested interests of European chicken producers and flat earth environmentalists who abhor any scientific process that did not exist before the discovery of radiation are trying to convince us American chickens will be unsafe. The real ‘threat’ is that US chicken is about 20 per cent cheaper than EU chicken.

The process involves rinsing slaughtered chickens in a bath of light chlorine solution to kill any bugs that would harm us as the carcass moves along the production line to be packaged.

The EU banned it over 20 years ago when it first started to be used but since then the evidence shows that it is reliably safe. Indeed, the EU’s own scientists have cleared the process as safe but countries such as Germany have vowed to never allow US chickens into Europe to protect their producers.

In case you are wondering the level of chlorine residue in a US chicken is so low that you would have to eat a whole chicken yourself to consume the same amount of chlorine in a standard glass of British tapwater. I’ve swallowed more chlorine at Porty Baths and I’m still swimming!

You also have to ask what happens to all those Americans eating 156 million chickens each week – or all the Canadians who import US chicken, or the folks in New Zealand and all around the world who do? The fact is the US approach reduces salmonella presence from 14 per cent to 2 per cent while the EU presence in EU chickens is typically 15-20 per cent.

If folk don’t want to eat these chickens they don’t have to buy them – they can buy dearer chicken produced without the chlorine rinse. So long as we continue to state the origin of chicken the consumer can choose. So why ban it?

Oh, and of course US organic chicken does not use that process – so you can always buy that type.

There was another Brexit scare story doing the rounds last week about how food prices will go up – but as you can see the reality is somewhat different. Food prices should actually come down once we leave, thanks to healthy price competition. Economists estimate that our grocery bills are 17 per cent higher thanks to these EU price-fixing practices.

Last year the EU increased tariffs fivefold on South African oranges to protect Spanish farmers – meaning we could not choose to have cheaper oranges if we thought them good enough.

Other such price-fixing exists on processed coffee from Africa – ensuring Germany makes more money from processing coffee than the whole of Africa does from exporting coffee beans.

It’s all designed to protect inefficient farmers to the benefit of foreign politicians who rely on their votes; a sort of agricultural protection racket for political mobsters. Restricted trade keeps Africans poor and our grocery bills higher.

Let’s get our bills down by trading freely with the whole world, be it US chickens or African oranges. We should decide for ourselves what we want to eat and at what price.