Concerns have been raised over the future of animal welfare in the UK if imports of chlorinated chicken are allowed as part of any future trade deal.
Washing chicken meat in chlorinated water is a common practice in the US, to ensure that meat has low levels of harmful bacteria and viruses, and is safe to eat.
Meat processed in this way is not believed to pose a risk for consumers, but the approach is widely opposed in the UK and is banned by the European Union.
According to Dr Jessica Martin, senior lecturer in Animal Welfare at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, this is because it could potentially mask poor standards of hygiene and welfare in which poultry are raised.
The prospect of UK imports of chlorine-washed chicken, with its accompanying welfare issues, has been raised as part of a possible US-UK trade deal after Brexit.
Industry groups such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Red Tractor, and the British Poultry Council are opposed to chlorine-washed chicken.
“Acceptance of chlorine washing by consumers would signal that we are condoning lower welfare standards,” the RSPCA has said.
Dr Martin said chlorine washing allowed poor practices throughout the rearing period for chickens: “This includes birds being crammed in together with minimal ventilation and lighting.
"These birds are bred to eat a lot, and therefore they excrete a lot, culminating in poor quality litter for them to live on,” she said.
As chlorine rinsing is prohibited in the EU, UK and European producers must tackle potential disease risks to poultry through good hygiene and welfare.
Dr Martin opposes imports of chlorine washed chicken, and would support a labelling system to help consumers make informed choices, if it were to occur.
Chlorinated chicken products are not yet a reality for UK consumers, and the industry awaits developments regarding the possibility of imports from the US, and the impact on food production standards.
Dr Martin added: “My concern is that if the market is opened to chlorinated chicken and other low welfare practices, the UK and EU higher welfare standards of poultry production are at risk.
“The UK is one of the global leaders in animal welfare standards and protective legislation, but as always we should continue to strive in further improvement.
"The US has no federal regulations to protect poultry welfare – only state guidance and recommendations. The risk of importation would affect standards overall, jeopardise poultry welfare and penalise British producers.”