They said it would be safer if the UK kept European Union standards and future controls should be ‘stricter, not weaker’.
The team found US poultry, washed in up to four chemical disinfectants, does not meet EU safety standards. They also discovered the chemicals are used in the US to wash fruit, vegetables and fish.
The EU’s ‘farm to fork’ approach is to require the poultry sector to deliver carcasses and cuts of meat sufficiently clean not to require washing in disinfectant.
The issue of the UK importing chlorine-washed meat was raised by Wilbur Ross, US Commerce Secretary, who said a post-Brexit UK US trade deal would need the UK to abandon EU standards.
Comparison of EU and US standards
The warning follows ‘chlorinated chicken’ concerns raised earlier this year ahead of trade talks between the US and UK. Chlorine is used to control microbiological contamination.
BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, has previously said chemical washes aim to make up for inadequate hygiene on farms and abattoirs.
Professors Erik Millstone (University of Sussex), Tim Lang (City, University of London) and Terry Marsden (Cardiff University) compared UK and EU standards with those in the US in a briefing paper.
According to the authors, animal carcasses are washed with disinfectants because when they arrive at US abattoirs and meat cutting plants they are more contaminated with filth, including excrement, than in the UK’s supply chain.
Professor Lang said weakening of UK food hygiene standards cannot be supported.
“This is not what UK consumers have voted for or been consulted on. We were shocked when we found that PRTs are allowed to wash fish, fruit and vegetables, as well as poultry. This might put off UK consumers.”
Keep EU standards
The paper – published by the Food Research Collaboration, an inter-university network – found too few studies have looked at disinfectant-washed poultry and some have produced data indicating risks.
It cites a 2014 Consumer Reports study that showed 97% of chicken breast meat in the US contains pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli.
The US poultry trade has four chemicals it calls ‘pathogen reduction treatments’ (PRTs). They are peroxyacetic acid, chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite and trisodium phosphate.
Professor Millstone said UK consumers would be safer if EU standards are kept and not if ‘US disinfectant-washed-but-still-dirty poultry’ is accepted.
“The UK should continue to insist on improving hygiene standards in poultry farms, slaughterhouses and meat-cutting plants and not allow standards to decline, nor try relying on chemical disinfectants to reduce the harm that filthy meat can cause.”
Professor Marsden said it is one of the food safety concerns consumers need to be aware of as Brexit continues.
“The UK needs to improve its intensive food production and processing standards and not put both animals and consumers at risk.”