You can learn an awful lot about Brexit from chlorinated chicken.
The term itself refers to the process of dipping fresh chicken carcasses into water containing chlorine dioxide just prior to packaging in an effort to kill off any potentially dangerous organisms such as E. coli or Salmonella that might be present. It is a process that is legal in the United States, but not permitted within the European Union where farmers are allowed to wash raw meat in precious little other than fresh water. For this reason it is not permissible to import fresh chicken from the US into the EU.
There are a number of reasons why the EU has chosen to ban chlorinated chicken. In part it is because of fears that chlorinated water may pose a health risk in its own right. However it also prevents farmers from cutting corners earlier in the process, on the basis that any contamination introduced will be rendered harmless by the chlorine wash at the end. A recent report from the Adam Smith Institute (Chlorinated Chicken: why you shouldn’t give a cluck by Peter Spence) states that fresh chicken is 21% cheaper in the US as a result, which suggests the EU may have a point. American farmers must be doing something different if they can cut costs to that degree.
If ‘hard Brexiteers’ have their way, we will shortly be entering into trade negotiations with the US, and Peter Spence for one thinks we should be importing chlorinated chicken, with Brexiteers arguing that cheaper chicken is good for consumers, and anyone who objects will remain free to pay a higher price for non-chlorinated chicken should they wish.
However that is a deliberately naive projection. Faced with the appearance of chlorinated chicken on the UK market, the EU will have no choice but to conduct border checks on any fresh chicken imported from the UK, both at ports of entry and at our only significant land border with the EU: the Irish border.
Meanwhile, British farmers will face a choice: either they rebuild their processing systems to produce chlorinated chicken in an attempt to compete with a large base of well-established US farmers; or they stick with their existing process and try to satisfy what demand remains in this country for non-chlorinated chicken, which must inevitably be more expensive than its chlorinated counterpart. Yes, they could try to export non-chlorinated chicken into the EU, but this will be subject to border checks that will put them at a serious disadvantage to European farmers. Either way, British chicken producers will suffer badly.
Given that any US/UK trade deal can only be finalised after we have signed the Brexit deal, then it will be the EU who will be insisting on these border checks, and it will be the EU who are blamed by ‘hard Brexiteers’ for insisting on a ‘hard border’ with Ireland. Therefore, unless we are prepared to enter into an enduring and binding agreement to impose the same regulations as the EU in all matters (which beggars the question as to why leave in the first place), the EU has little choice but to insist on a hard border now, and we only have ourselves to blame. Any suggestion that we can set our own regulations and continue to have an open border with Ireland is baloney.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that a 2014 report from the US-based Consumer Reports organisation entitled Dangerous Contaminated Chicken, which tested more than 300 raw chicken breasts from across the US, found that 97% contained harmful bacteria and more than half contained faecal contaminants.