“Never trust a Fox in your hen coop,” Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow trade secretary sallied after British trade secretary Liam Fox accused the country’s media of being “obsessed” with chlorine-washed chicken being imported from U.S. farms. Fox was addressing the rampant fears that Britain would enter into a potential trade deal with America post-Brexit; a relationship that would accommodate U.S. poultry farmers to sell their meat in Britain. According to the trade secretary, his official trip to Washington focused on lengthy trade negotiations, of which potentially contaminated chickens played only a small role.
“In a debate which should be about how we make our contribution to global liberalization and the increased prosperity of both the U.K., the U.S. and our trading partners, the complexities — the continuity agreements, the short-term gains that we may make, the opportunities we have and our ability to work jointly towards both a free-trade agreement and WTO [World Trade Organization] liberalization — the British media are obsessed with chlorine-washed chickens, a detail of the very end-stage of one sector of a potential free trade agreement. I say no more than that,” Fox said during an official press conference.
Not everyone appears to be as nonchalant about the situation, however. Many British government officials say that the possibility of U.S. chickens being sold in their country would lower the health and safety standards being practiced by local farmers. Barring the politics involved in the likely partnership, British health groups are pointing to the substandard practices of American farms — least of which is spraying dead chickens with chlorine to clean them.
Whistleblowers are reporting to the media that for many American farms, tens of thousands of mutated, super-sized chickens (described as “Frankenstein birds”) are kept in unsanitary and cramped environments. The animals have no room to move and are hardly exposed to sunlight. Worse, many of them weigh around nine pounds, often buckling under their own weight. For the most part, chickens are left to die covered in their own feces. A majority of the chickens raised on American farms do not reach maturity.
Craig Watts, a North Carolina farmer, further describes the situation: “The birds are too heavy to stand because they have been bred for breast meat and nothing else so they spend their lives squatting. It’s like two toothpicks sticking out of a grape. They spend 95 percent of their time sitting on the litter, a mixture of pine shavings and fecal matter from that flock and prior flocks.”
These appalling conditions have caused farms to become breeding grounds for disease. This, the whistleblowers say, is why chickens are washed with chlorine before being sold at the market. Allegedly, around 97 percent of our birds are cleaned in this way.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Currently, there are no laws or policies that dictate the minimum space requirements for our poultry farms. More crucially, there are no rules which limit the maximum amount of ammonia in the farms, which would indicate the amount of urine and fecal matter is present.
Watts believes that we reached this state because of the “tournament system” that is currently being urged by big producers. American chicken farmers need to produce the most meat at the cheapest rates. This has prompted farms to cut corners in animal welfare. Farmers are too afraid to speak up in fear that their contracts would be terminated. Still, leaked footage from campaigners who have infiltrated these chicken farms reveal shocking animal abuse. One video shot at a farm in Georgia showed the owner of the farm bludgeoning chickens with a metal rod.
This goes beyond the genetic manipulation being done to chickens. Studies have shown that U.S. chickens have tripled in size since 1957.
Despite the evidence that suggests these unnatural procedures, the U.S. poultry industry insist that our chickens are healthy and fit for consumption. Jim Sumner, who is the President of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Export Council, said that chlorine is only used to make chicken “extra safe.” The chemical wash does not harm the consumers.