The UK is pushing for a wide-ranging, post-Brexit free trade deal with the USA – but Washington wants Britain to change food hygiene rules to allow chicken carcasses to be disinfected with chemicals such as chlorine. However, EU standards require washing with water, which the bloc’s farmers say means they have to maintain stricter standards, which are consequently more costly. French poultry farmer Isabelle Leballeur is angry at European trade agreements which she said allowed low-cost chicken into France and voiced her determination to stop post-Brexit Britain getting such a kind of deal.
Everyone knows that American chicken is dunked in chlorine
With UK and EU negotiators working feverishly to strike a trade deal before the end of the year, Ms Leballeur is urging Mr Macron to block any accord which allows Britain to relax food safety rules.
She said: “You can’t have a different way of doing things when it comes to regulatory standards.
“Everyone knows that American chicken is dunked in chlorine.
“It’s a practice you’ll never see in France.”
Nevertheless, Ms Leballeur, who raises 250,000 chickens each year on her farm in the hills outside Le Mans in the west of France, fears the UK will find a way of avoiding European regulations.
The main worry for farmers is that cheaper US imports will displace Britain’s existing poultry imports, pushing them instead to France, which already imports cheap poultry from Brazil and Thailand, and driving down prices.
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But they are worry about the possibility of chlorinated chicken entering the EU via the back door.
Pressed as to how Mr Macron should respond should the UK refuse to sign up for regulatory alignment with the EU, Mr Leballeur said: “No deal. There’s no doubt”.
The industry wants Mr Macron to offer three guarantees: Britain-EU regulatory alignment, no tariffs which could curb British imports of EU chicken, and country-of-origin labelling on all chicken sold in France, including in canteens and restaurants.
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Anne Richard, head of the French poultry industry body Anvol said: “We know the Irish border is going to be somewhat porous, so alignment is critical.”
Anvol estimates the sector directly employs 100,000 people and generates 6.8 billion euros, which is a fraction of France’s 2.5 trillion euro economy.
However, Mr Macron will be mindful of France’s powerful farming lobby.
European Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said late last month third-party countries which export to the EU’s single market should face the same demands on standards.
Speaking on the sidelines of an agricultural show, he said: “It is a red line.”
Downing Street had been urged by trade union leaders not to “cosy up” to US President Donald Trump, with the PM being urged to block any US manoeuvring to lower food standards.
Ministers have repeatedly faced demands to rule out chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef being imported from the US in any deal, with animal welfare and environmental concerns raised.
Crawford Falconer, the Department for International Trade’s chief trade negotiation adviser, will oversee talks with Washington on the UK side.
Negotiating rounds will alternate between the UK and US.
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