The US industrial farming system is proving to be a stumbling block in the negotiation of a major free trade agreement between the United States and the EU. As negotiators from the two sides meet in Washington for the seventh round of talks over the creation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), many Europeans are saying they don’t want to eat industrially produced American chicken due to the anti-microbial chlorine baths the birds get before hitting the store shelves. According to NPR, the chlorine bath has been banned in Europe since the 1990s, and many Europeans are concerned about the health effects of consuming American food.
“In Europe there is definitely a disgust about chlorinated chicken,” Mute Schimpf, an activist with Friends of the Earth Europe told NPR. It’s an example of the opposition to the TTIP in Europe where some people worry the agreement would lower their food standards.
But according to Scott Russell, professor of poultry processing at the University of Georgia, chlorine isn’t a public health concern. “Most of these concerns about chemical use and those kinds of things are blown up in the media to become a problem that really doesn’t exist,” Russell told NPR. He notes that American chicken processors use about a cap full of chlorine per gallon in a tank of water used to chill chicken carcasses. He adds that the chlorine is used to disinfect the chicken and later gets washed off, making it of little threat to the people who eat it.
Russell explains that in Europe the bacteria control is done completely in the live bird, through regular testing for salmonella and the extermination of whole flocks of birds if just one tests positive. The practice has taken 20 years but salmonella has been reduced to just 2 percent.
It sounds like a long process, but Europeans have high standards when it comes to their food – some of the highest in the world. And according to Cees Vermeeren of the European Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade, they want to eat fresh, air-chilled chicken – not water-soaked, chlorinated birds. “The main principle of European food policy is a farm-to-fork approach, and you may say it’s fundamentally different than what’s happening outside Europe in many place,” Vermeeren told NPR.