December 4 2022 12:37 AM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

US chickens convince British consumers the sky is falling

Denounced by politicians and reviled by food safety activists, American-bred “chlorinated chickens” have become a symbol of all the UK fears about a looming trade deal. (Photo: NYTimes)
LONDON — In this post-Brexit, mid-pandemic moment in the United Kingdom, it is hard to find a topic that unites the nation. But US chickens have done it.اضافة اعلان

Everybody hates them.

The odd thing is that US chicken is not sold anywhere in Britain, and if people here get their way, it never will be.

What precisely have US chickens done to so thoroughly appall the British?

The short answer is that some US chicken carcasses are washed in chlorine to eliminate potentially harmful pathogens. Americans for years have been devouring these birds without any fuss, but in Britain, US chickens have been denounced by editorialists, academics, politicians, farmers and a wide variety of activists.

US poultry has long been derided in the United Kingdom but did not become an object of public vitriol until it became clear the two countries would sign a new free-trade agreement once Britain left the European Union. Arguably the largest anticipated sticking point in any such deal centers on US food standards, which are widely regarded here as subpar and tolerant of filth and shabby conditions in the quest for profits.

It is all a big smear, says the US poultry industry, and an excuse to keep a British industry from competing with far larger US rivals. But dig a little, and it is quickly clear that chlorine chicken phobia is about more than edible birds. Somehow, the US' handling of chicken has become a symbol of British fears that, without the proper guardrails, a trade deal with the United States will change Britain for the worse.

“This is a classic example of how belief has overtaken evidence and become embedded in a complex sociopolitical discourse which is almost certainly motivated by something very different from that actual issue,” said Ian Boyd, a professor of biology at the University of St. Andrews. “Chlorine-washed chicken is almost certainly a proxy for much deeper issues concerning trust.”

The specifics of this mistrust are hard to pin down. Most involve a free-floating sense that the United States is a heedless juggernaut and if trade between the two countries is unfettered, there is no telling what Americans will peddle and ruin.

The timing for any US-British trade deal is unknown. Several trade experts said that negotiations could take years, largely because the deal does not seem to be a high priority in the United States.

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