Richard Short: Don’t fall for the scare stories. Chlorinated chicken would be good for you. It’s time to tuck in.

Richard Short is the Deputy Director of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists, and was Parliamentary Candidate for Warrington North in 2015.

So you think chlorinated food is going to ruin your health? If you have been to a restaurant and eaten the salad, then it’s too late, I’m afraid.

For EU Food safety rules demand that salads must be disinfected: this almost always means using chlorine and, trust me, even the highest-end restaurants do it. Quite right, too: it’s safe, very effective and it’s cheap. So if the EU is so demanding of our salads, why such a flap about giving the same treatment to chicken?

Chlorinated chicken has become the symbol of everything bad about trade with the United States – or indeed, any other country that treats chicken in this way, the reasons for which are many and varied. The anti-chlorine narrative is centred around food safety, with some commentators claiming the chlorine itself is harmful, which is simply untrue.

A more intelligent argument is that US welfare and abattoir standards for poultry are less strict, allowing higher density flocks which in turn, it is argued, leads to spread of pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella. The EU banned the use of chlorine in 1997, preferring a ‘farm to fork” approach to improve food safety. This approach places regulations on husbandry, feedstuffs, abattoir hygiene and food production – with more and more regulation creeping in over the years.

The US places its reliance on voluntary industry standards for husbandry, but has equally strict regulations for abattoirs. And it has food business standards which eclipse those of the EU – as anyone who has been in cross hairs of a United States Public Health Inspector will testify.

So who is doing better by the consumer? The clear winner is the United States – and we only need to look at the infection rate from one food poisoning bug to understand why. The most common worldwide pathogen present in chicken is the campylobacter bacteria. It exists in, on and around chicken and, while it causes the chicken no harm, it is the single highest cause of bacterial gastro-enteritis in the EU.

In the UK alone there has been a steady 50-60,000 cases annually reported. In the entire United States, by comparison, there were just over 6000 cases reported. In both countries, there are many unreported cases but, as both jurisdictions have well established and highly advanced public surveillance, the officially reported cases are an equivalent benchmark.

The EU’s intransigence on not allowing the chlorination of chicken is economically significant. Not only does it create an impasse in any trade negotiations with the US but, closer to home, it has a direct cost to the British economy in working days lost due to illness, with the associated costs to the NHS and social care.

The narrative of the Brexit debate has led to the chlorination of chicken becoming the antithesis of food safety. The irony is that, as well as the positive impact on food safety, the EU itself has publicly declared there are no food safety grounds to ban the process.

Yet it has been barred since the late twentieth century and, in doing so, the EU has banned the production of a safe, cheap source of meat for EU consumers. The sooner we start using chlorine, the faster we will see infection rates fall – and the sooner we’ll see hard pressed consumers more able to buy high quality, good value protein.

Read More

A UK-US trade deal. Never mind the economics (at least for a moment). Feel the politics.

“While trade deals have taken on an important political and symbolic value in the context of Brexit,” Dominic Walsh of Open Europe wrote recently on this site, “their economic benefits are typically smaller and slower to materialise than many realise.” This is the place to start when considering a possible UK-US agreement on trade.  Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for one is as much political as economic: a successful deal would show Britain, as it moves a bit further from the EU, also moving a bit closer to America.

Such a rebalancing is a strategic consequence of Brexit, at least in the eyes of many backers of leaving the EU.  Future trade deals were a Vote Leave EU referendum priority – though it may be significant that the United States was not one of the headline countries named.  Perhaps the reason was a wariness of anti-American sentiment among a section of the voting public.  None the less, the prospect of a trade agreement with the United States was mooted during the 2016 campaign: hence Barack Obama’s line, written for him by Team Cameron, of Britain being “at the back of the queue” for such a deal.

The obstacles to one are formidable.  For while the Prime Minister is bound to view it through the lens of politics, Donald Trump is more likely to do through that of economics – though the one admittedly tends to blur into the other.  America’s approach to such matters as food safety and animal welfare, environmental protection and intellectual property rights is different from ours in any event.  Never mind the red herring of chlorinated chickens – so to speak – or autopilot claims from Corbynistas about NHS selloffs. The real action is elsewhere.  The United States has long had a protectionist streak, and is resistant to opening up its financial services markets, for example.

The conventional view is that Trump is the biggest America Firster of all; that he would drive a hard bargain, that he has the muscle to do so – and that he wouldn’t be in control of an agreement anyway.  Congress could block one if it wished, and might well do so in the event of No Deal, since the Irish-American lobby is as well-entrenched as ever.  It has been a headache for British governments over Ireland-linked matters before: remember the McBride principles.  A different take is that politics may win out in the end, because both Trump and Congress will want a UK trade deal in order to put economic and political pressure on the EU: we will publish more about that later this week.

John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, is visiting Britain.  He said yesterday that the UK will be “first in line” for a trade agreement post-Brexit – a deliberate counter to Obama’s line.  Bolton will be dangling the prospect as an inducement.  He will want Johnson to take a more resistant line to Huawei than Theresa May did, and for the UK to move closer to America’s position on Iran.  But the possibility of early sector deals – or at least the exclusion of Britain from new pro-protection moves – seems to be real enough.  As with the NHS, policing, immigration and stop and search, so with trade.  Johnson wants progress towards a quick win as a possible election looms.

Read More