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Perdue confronts UK and EU over chlorine chicken 'myths'

Divisions between the US, UK and the EU were laid bare on Tuesday (October 18) as US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue accused European countries of using dubious food safety concerns to keep American poultry out of their markets.

Updating reporters on his ongoing visit to Europe, Perdue said he had engaged in a “frank discussion on some of the non-scientific restrictions imposed by the EU”.

“There seems to be hiding behind sanitary and pythosanitary issues simply for protectionist purposes… we need to be willing to address things based on sound science basis and not hide behind that,” he stated.

Perdue said he had told EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan that the US wants trade deals based on “sound science discovery and not perceived myths”.

UK perceptions challenged

The US Agriculture Secretary also confirmed that he had challenged misplaced perceptions over US poultry in a meeting with Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) and his committee chair Neil Parish.

“I addressed Parish and Gove regarding the disparaging of US poultry,” he said.

“Interestingly they still refer to it as chicken bathed in chlorine when most of us know that that is not a processing option that is used commonly in the US today,” he claimed.

Gove recently made clear that the UK would still not be willing to accept chlorine washed chicken once the country leaves the EU and starts pursuing its own bilateral free trade deals. Other figures in the UK government have taken a different line, suggesting the whole issue is blown out of proportion.

Perdue said protectionist EU policies were denying European consumers access to “wholesome, healthy, nutritious and safe food” from the US.

“I simply make the point to our EU partners why don’t we be transparent in a labelling way and let the consumers make the choice,” he noted.

“The other thing I communicated to individual countries is the frustration that we in the US have is that we have very cordial bilateral discussions and conversations on a bilateral basis and they then crawl back under the EU flag and plead their inability to carry out those desires because of the EU prohibition,” he added.

Beef quota concerns

Perdue said he had also discussed US concerns over EU tariff rate quotas (TRQs) for beef. The US believes it should have the lion’s share of the TRQ for high quality beef, which was originally created as a solution to a dispute over hormone-treated cattle. Much of the quota is currently taken up by rival suppliers such as Uruguay and Australia.

The Agriculture Secretary made clear he was on a mission to challenge what he sees as deliberately misleading comments about US products.

“We’ve allowed them [critics] to have the microphone perpetrating untruthful comments regarding chlorinated chicken and various things. We began a communication campaign directly to the people of Europe regarding the health and safeness of American food of American protein and American poultry and American beef,” he added.

As reported in IEG Vu yesterday (October 17), the US National Chicken Council estimates that chlorine is currently used in chilling systems and rinses in about 20-25% of processing plants in the US. Many processors have switched to other washes such as peracetic acid (also known as peroxyacetic acid or PAA), cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), organic acid rinses and others. Like chlorine, these alternative washes are currently banned for use in the EU, though that may change in the future. Most of the chlorine that is used in the US poultry industry is now used for cleaning and sanitizing processing equipment.

US set to lift lamb import ban?

European leaders have previously pointed out that the US itself has historically not been averse to sidestepping international guidelines on SPS-related restrictions to trade. This is evidenced by longstanding US bans on lamb from across the EU and beef from the majority of member states, including the UK.

During his visit to the UK, Perdue indicated that the US could soon offer opportunities to British lamb exporters. The US is still closed to sheep meat from across Europe as a legacy of policies put in place in the wake of Europe’s mad cow disease crisis of the 1990s.

This could be about to change however, as the USDA is in final stages of changing rules on so-called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. This will remove the main barrier keeping EU lamb out of the US market. As the EU’s largest exporter, the UK will likely be the biggest beneficiary. The change should also smooth the way for the UK to be able to export beef to the US. The US currently allows beef imports from just four EU countries - Ireland, Netherlands, France and Lithuania.

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