Another day, another crass outpouring from the US on chlorinated-chicken. This time it’s America’s National Farmers Union saying that we’re “fear-mongering” over their use of chemicals to clean-up food or their injecting hormones to increase growth. It’s “perfectly safe” they say, and yes, it is, but that has never been the objection. Our issue has always been that US production doesn’t meet our standards and our values for meat production.

Their final message is “…let consumers choose.”, which is to say ‘let’s compete on price and hope nobody notices the other stuff’. What if the US was totally honest about the differences in production, and what would British consumers then choose? Here are a few topics that have been in the public-eye over recent years, and how they compare. The below is summarised from a report produced in August 2016 by ADAS for AVEC.

Animal welfare
The UK/EU has multiple pieces of national legislation aimed at various aspects of animal welfare. For chicken alone this includes on-farm, catching, transport, and at slaughter. The US has no national welfare legislation covering farm animal welfare. Some states have laws but as of August 2016 the three major chicken producing states of Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas did not. In the absence of legislation, the voluntary standards of the National Chicken Council are observed.

Welfare during transport
The UK/EU has a maximum transport time of 12 hours, including space requirements. The US follows a maximum transport time of 28 hours with no restrictions on the number of birds in the crates.

Environmental impact
In the UK, an environmental permit is mandatory for farms with over 40,000 birds, with requirements to use the ‘Best Available Techniques’ to minimise impact. The US requires a permit for farms with over 125,000 birds, and the use of a management plan.

Meat and bone meal in poultry feed
The UK/EU does not allow meat and bone meal from other terrestrial species, e.g. pigs, to be used in poultry feed. Some processed fishmeal is permitted. The US allows meat and bone meal to be used in poultry feed.

Stunning prior to slaughter
The UK/EU explicitly requires stunning, and the methodology and application is closely controlled by the legislation. The US has no specific legislation for stunning. However, there is a federal mandate that says slaughter must be ‘in accordance with good commercial practices in a manner that will result in thorough bleeding of the carcasses and ensure that breathing has stopped prior to scalding‘ and this is universally interpreted as a requirement to stun.

Carcass cleaning
The UK/EU only allows for potable water to be used to clean carcasses. The US allows for approved (food safe) chemicals to be used in the decontamination of carcasses.

Country of origin
The UK/EU requires labelling of meat as to where it was hatched, reared, and slaughtered, whereas the US repealed similar legislation in 2015.

There have been continual calls during the Brexit debates to maintain and improve animal welfare in this country. Looking at welfare alone shows a chasm between the attitude of the two Governments; we view it as a pre-requisite and something important enough to be legislated for and enforced, while they take a voluntary approach.

Taken together, these and the other deviations contained in the report add up to a system that cannot sit right with an average British consumer.