Members of Parliament from all political horizons have reacted with fury to a Commission proposal yesterday (28 May) to re-allow imports of poultry rinsed with chemicals, stemming mainly from the United States.
Concretely, the Commission wants to allow businesses to use four currently banned anti-microbal substances to decontaminate poultry carcasses.
The EU executive says the substances have been cleared by the European Food Safety Agency and carcasses will in any case have to be rinsed with potable water after treatment, thereby removing any possible residues on the final product.
But MEPs, meeting in Parliament’s Environment Committee, were incensed by the decision, which they say contradicts Community food production standards. “The chlorination of chicken intended for human consumption is not acceptable for the EU […] Such food production methods are at variance with the relevant Community standards, and threatening to the EU’s entire set of food production standards and rules,” states an EP press release.
MEPs will however not have a say on the matter, as it will be decided by national technical experts in the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH), according to the so-called “comitology procedure”.
If approved, the proposal would effectively lift an 11-year ban on US poultry, which are generally treated with these processes.
The US has been pushing for the ban to be lifted for years but to no avail. However, the issue was recently pinpointed as a top priority in the new “Transatlantic Economic Council” process, which aims to remove remaining regulatory obstacles hampering trade and investment between the two economic giants.
At the Council’s last meeting, on 13 May, EU Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen reportedly gave assurances to US Special Envoy to the EU Boyden Gray that the poultry problem would be “fixed” before the EU-US summit in Ljubljana in June.
However, whether the EU executive will succeed in its initiative remains far from clear. France is leading the opposition to the plans, saying the move would frustrate efforts to reduce bacterial infection rates, such as salmonella, in Europe.
But many other European governments are fiercely opposed to any form of compromise on food safety standards, which in the EU are among the highest in the world.
And, while French initiatives to adapt international trade rules to allow countries more leeway to block food imports based on health and food safety concerns are often thrown out as protectionism by other countries, even the most pro-free-trade EU countries like Sweden are starting to speak out in favour of such a scheme.