“If and when Brexit happens, the UK may well be obliged to accept chlorinated poultry as part of any separate trade deal with the US. Agricultural exports are a priority for US negotiators – it would be difficult to make an exception for chicken.”
That quote, from a June 3 article in The Guardian, expresses a fear in more than a minority of UK citizens, including the increasing number favoring generally recognized as safe-type (GRAS) rules being applied in the preparation of material – foodstuffs – intended for human consumption. And beyond that, there is, there as in the US, an increasing move amongst consumers for chickens and chicken products from birds raised in ways closer to what nature intended – without additives in their food, being given adequate room to move and ‘act like a chicken’, to be treated, ethically, like something more than an entity to transform grain into meat. (The same issues arise when cattle-raising is discussed – as they should be.)
Consumers might wonder, given enough information to do so, how the chemical chlorine – generally thought of as a substance for sanitizing swimming pools – could possible have anything to do with the raising or processing of chickens. And why, come to that, it’s use would be acceptable under the GRAS standards.
GRAS defines, in Food and Drug Administration (FDA) parlance, “any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive.”
The Guardian article focuses on a practice, the washing of chicken with a fluid containing chlorine, that has been banned in the European Union for 22 years. While the practice is being used less and less in the US, it is still legal here.
The National Chicken Council in the United States estimates that chlorine is used in some rinses and sprays in only about 10% of processing plants in the U.S. Most of the chlorine that is used in the industry is used for cleaning and sanitizing processing equipment. However, according to the web site ChickenCheckin.com, “numerous studies and scientific research have confirmed that the use of chlorinated water to chill and clean chicken is safe and effective. Chlorine-washed chicken does not pose any human health concerns and it is not present in the final product.”
Industry practice would suggest it’s perfectly OK for laying chickens – egg producers – to spend the bulk of their lives standing in their own waste. That like most other commonalities of chicken and egg producing is little-known to and less thought-about by American consumers.
It’s worth considering that, while the US has elaborate, well-thought-out, generally ‘reasonable’ rules for how food is procured, processed, transported and stored at the point of sale, the US’s rules aren’t necessarily the ‘best,’ or acceptable to governments – and ultimately the citizens – of other countries.
A decreasing number of American families regularly consume chickens that are home-raised, fed on table scraps, never subject to government inspection, and are tasty as all get out. I often experienced chickens raised that way when I was a kid. Like today’s home-raised chickens, none of them ever got me sick – aside from the occasional belly ache from eating too much.
As recently as a few years ago, I occasionally (very much) enjoyed chickens that were field raised in very small quantities on farms I visited in Southern Virginia. Their taste, and waste/fat-to-meat makeup was ounces-per-pound above store-bought chickens.
One of those farms was Amish-run. It may still be raising and selling its own chickens, but I’ve moved from that area, and on several recent trips through there the ‘dressed chickens’ sign was missing.
Another chicken-raising operation was run by two partners, one of whom had a small farm. The other guy obtained the chicks, and they split the cost of raising them, as well as the modest profits from selling them – straight to customers, via the non-farmer’s home in a nearby city.
Sadly, they found that food (grain) cost too high to justify the small farmer’s investment in time and effort to bring the chicks to a meaty-enough-for-market state.
All their customers were private, bird-or-two at a time ones, and I’m sure others, like me, were sad to see them have to give up on growing the kind of birds that used to be commonplace: Birds that were, to the degree chickens can be, ‘happy as a hen’.
I still had that taste of ‘old fashioned’ chicken in mind when, during half a decade living in England, I was regularly disappointed with the birds one or another supermarket – or local butcher – offered. One reason was the still-common use of fish meal to feed them. Over time, of course, my taste buds ‘settled’ on the taste of local chicken.
But I seriously noticed a taste difference when I returned to the US, in 1976, and resumed eating birds grown in this country. I doubt, but have no idea, if they were chlorine-washed then. Probably not; But over the years – into and through the chlorinated chicken era – the flavor of supermarket birds here has slide down the taste scale. More’s the pity.