UK supermarkets promise to never sell chlorinated chicken in blow to a Brexit trade deal with Trump

UK supermarkets promise to never sell chlorinated chicken in blow to a Brexit trade deal with Trump
Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • EXCLUSIVE: UK supermarkets pledge to never stock chlorinated chicken or hormone-injected beef, in a blow to those pushing to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.
  • The UK government last month opened the door to accepting American meat products as part of any trade deal with Washington.
  • However, Sainsbury's, The Co-op, and Marks and Spencer all told Business Insider that they wouldn't stock any products that breached current UK food standards.
  • A spokesperson for M&S told Insider: "Our customers can be confident that we will never sell chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef."
  • The companies follow budget supermarket Aldi, who this week also said that it would not sell the products.

A series of leading UK supermarkets have told Business Insider that they will never sell chlorinated chicken or hormone-injected beef from the US, in a blow to those pushing for UK food standards to be dropped in order to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with Trump.

The Trump administration has insisted that US agricultural goods must be included in any free trade agreement between the two countries.

The UK's current strict food standards prohibit such products from being imported. However, Boris Johnson's government last month opened the door to dropping the ban on the products once Britain leaves EU trade rules in 2021.

Several leading supermarket chains told Business Insider that they would never stock the products, even if the rules were dropped by the UK government.

"Our commitment to our customers and family of 10,000 British farmers has not and will not change," a spokesperson for M&S told Business Insider this week.


"Our promise is that we only ever source our quality fresh food from Select Farmers we know and trust. That means our customers can be confident that we will never sell chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef."

Sainsbury's and The Co-op both issued the same warning.

"We are committed to upholding high standards for our customers and will never sell these products," a spokesperson for Sainsbury's said, while a spokesperson for The Co-op confirmed that it would not stock these products, telling Business Insider: "The Co-op has a clear policy to only source 100% British meat."

A spokesperson for Tesco told Business Insider that the supermarket's position had not changed since its CEO in September ruled out relaxing food standards and said selling US chicken was not "on my mind."

Dave Lewis told an event hosted by The Financial Times: "There is no US sourcing of chicken on my mind."


He said: "When people talk about let's go back to genetically modified goods or chlorinated chicken, if you have that conversation with UK customers, then they reject it. As a retailer we will have to respect what people want."

"Whatever the trade deals are we, like other retailers, will look at them, but what we won't do is give up our standards as we look at those opportunities."

This follows Aldi UK's CEO Giles Hurley on Tuesday warning that the supermarket would "never compromise on the standards or specifications of our products" by stocking chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef.

"Aldi is one of the biggest supporters of British suppliers and we want to make it clear that will always be the case.

"We are a signatory to the NFU Back British Farming Charter and our entire core range of fresh meat and milk is from Red Tractor-approved farms in the UK," Hurley said.


"We will never compromise on the standards or specifications of our products, and that includes a commitment to never selling chlorinated chicken or hormone injected beef.

"Britain has some of the highest food quality standards in the world, and our commitment to only source chicken and beef from this country means our customers know they are always buying high quality Aldi products at unbeatable value."

The US practice of washing chicken in chlorine has become a totemic issue in the UK, with farming groups warning that this process, banned in the European Union, masks inadequacies in how meat is produced before being sold.

Dozens of UK Members of Parliament, including a number in Johnson's Conservative party, have urged him to not accept US agricultural imports of a lower standard in a trade deal, citing concerns over animal welfare.

Now some of the UK's biggest supermarkets are doing the same, warning the UK government that they will not stock chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef if it is sold to the UK as part of a free trade agreement.


The National Farmer's Union's Back British Farming campaign is calling on the UK government to protect British farmers and their produce by committing to not lowering standards.

An NFU spokesperson said: "We know that where our food comes from and how it is produced is incredibly important to the public.

"Shoppers clearly value the high standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety that British farmers adhere to and they will be encouraged to hear several retailers commit their continued support to British farmers.

The campaign is also supported by Waitrose, with boss James Bailey last month saying that the supermarket opposed calls for the UK to relax its food standards and would not stock chlorinated chicken or hormone-injected beef.

UK supermarkets promise to never sell chlorinated chicken in blow to a Brexit trade deal with Trump
Adrian Dennis/PA Images via Getty Images


He wrote in the Waitrose magazine "we will never sell any Waitrose product that does not meet our own high standards" and that "any regression from the standards we have pioneered for the last 30 years would be an unacceptable backwards step".

Bailey said: "It would be simply wrong to maintain high standards at home yet import food from overseas that has been produced to lower standards.

"We would be closing our eyes to a problem that exists in another part of the world and to animals who are out of our sight and our minds."

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who recently wrote to supermarkets urging them to rule out stocking chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, said "this is a victory for British consumers, and farmers."

She told Business Insider: "It will help protect high quality British grown produce from this Conservative Government's obsession with a damaging Trump trade deal. We must not turn back the clock on recent decades of progress when it comes to food safety and animal welfare."


Naomi Smith, CEO of Best for Britain, the campaign for a comprehensive UK-EU trade deal, said: "This is an important statement by these supermarkets that reassures consumers that they won't sacrifice the quality of food sold in its UK stores.

"With the UK government refusing to guarantee food standards won't be watered down to push a US trade deal over the line, we continue to strongly encourage other supermarkets and food retailers to offer the same commitment to their consumers."

Agriculture is a 'very fundamental' issue for US negotiators

UK supermarkets promise to never sell chlorinated chicken in blow to a Brexit trade deal with Trump
Robert Lighthizer.AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Prime Minister Johnson faces a major headache in trying to balance the concerns of UK farmers, consumers, and sympathetic MPs with US demands on what must be included in a post-Brexit free trade agreement.

According to recent reports, Johnson is considering a "dual-tariff" system in order to protect UK farmers. Under this system, US farmers would be allowed to export meat UK. However, they would be subjected to tariffs.


A spokesperson for The National Chicken Council, one of the biggest US trade associations in agriculture, last month told Business Insider that this proposal was unacceptable.

"It is the National Chicken Council's position that any free trade deal be just that – free and fair – unfettered by any tariff or non-tariff barriers," they said.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last month told the House of Representative's Ways and Means committee that agriculture was among "very, very fundamental issues" in trade negotiations with the UK.

He warned that the Trump administration would "push this [trade deal] off" unless the UK government accepted its demands and that the US was "not going to be in a position where our farmers are treated unfairly."

Minette Batters, the president of the UK's NFU, has described Johnson's refusal to commit in law to upholding current food standards as "pretty terrifying."


The UK currently follows EU rules when it comes to food standards, owing to its former membership of the bloc. Over one million have people have signed a new NFU petition calling for the UK government to block food imports that do not meet the UK's standards.