The On-going Saga of the EU-US Chicken Wars

The United States is the world’s second largest exporter of chicken, and in 2013 exported nearly 20 percent of its total volume of production, with an export value of more than $4.7 billion. Everyone wants safer meat production and in the US the approach has been to add chemical intervention steps in the slaughter houses. Chickens and beef sides are routinely sprayed or washed in solutions to biocides such as peracetic acid (PAA) and chlorine to reduce the bacterial burdens.

The EU, in contrast, tries to minimize the risk that live chickens carry salmonella and other pathogens before they reach the slaughter house. Producers take care to prevent contamination between birds and between eviscerated birds and their excised parts, and decontaminate slaughtered chicken using only cold air or water. Many people in the EU believe that chlorine-washed chicken is a danger to human health and consequently the EU has had a ban on US poultry since 1997 .

Despite the unpopularity of chlorine treated chicken, the EU, is under pressure from the US to allow PAA to be used as an intervention chemical for poultry. Proponents argue that adding intervention chemicals will improve the EU safety even further, but opponents of intervention chemicals dislike ‘chemically treated food’ in general and fear that it will allow processors to introduce sloppy practices, relying on the chemicals to kill any bugs that get through.

PAA received a blessing from the European Food Safety Authority based on efficacy and rapid break down to the innocuous materials, acetic acid (vinegar) and oxygen; though the EFSA was concerned about the HDEP, a stabilizer used in the PAA blends, and its discharge in the waste waters. However, organizations such as the BEUC, who describe themselves as the Consumer Voice in Europe are vocally against the use of PAA.

In the larger picture, chickens are just part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade agreement currently under negotiation between the US and EU. There are a number of these open issues and it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached before 2016. Whatever the outcome of the agreement, the impact of the TTIP will be significant for poultry producers and chemical suppliers both sides of the Atlantic.