The Trump administration has offered up to £75,000 for an organisation to take “influential” British journalists on a tour of American farms to influence narratives around the country’s food standards, specifically the vexed issue of “chlorinated chicken”.
Anticipating negative coverage around a US-UK free trade deal after Brexit, the US embassy in London put out a tender in July under the catchy title: “Countering Negative And Poorly Informed Reporting about US Agricultural Practices and Consumer Choice.”
Unlike some producers in US, the UK doesn’t wash chicken with chlorine as a form of disinfectant because of EU regulations. It has led to critics of a post-Brexit free trade deal with the US cranking up concerns about “chlorinated chickens” — although government experts saying there are no scientific concerns around the practice.
On Thursday, Johnson raised the issue with the visiting US Vice President Mike Pence. “The National Health Service is not on the table as far as negotiations go,” Johnson said. “We’re not too keen on the chlorinated chicken, either.”
Referring to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, he added: “We have a gigantic chlorinated chicken of our own here on the opposition benches.” It’s the second time this week Johnson has used the insult.
According to the tender seen by BuzzFeed News, the US wants to fight back against what they call “misconceptions” about the American farming industry, which could put a US-UK free trade deal at risk.
“The misconceptions include animal welfare standards, GMOs and labeling, and the use of antibiotics in livestock production,” the tender says. “Media stories about ‘industrial scale’ U.S. agriculture, usually focused on so-called ‘chlorinated chickens’, are negative, misleading, and often inaccurate.”
The winning bid will be paid between £60-75,000 to organise a press trip for “influential” UK journalists and activists as they tour American farms.
“Participants will explore small, medium, and large farms representing various certification standards (organic, natural, conventional), research institutions supporting science-based agricultural practices, government agencies that focus on ensuring food is nutritious and safe, and other relevant institutions connected to U.S. farming,” the tender reads.
“The locations should be carefully chosen to be geographically and culturally diverse and reflect the breadth of choice the U.S. consumer has when making food decisions.”
The tender also cites US Department of Agriculture (USDA) polling done in the last year by Gallup, which revealed twice as many British people had heard “negative news” about food produced in the US as opposed to positive.
“Almost half of the poll responders (48%) are unaware of the USDA or its food safety programs,” the tender reads. “Just 1% of British consumers would buy American meat over British.”
UK media coverage about the hypothetical US-UK free trade deal has been framed around concerns over two big issues: Firstly, whether US health companies would get access to Britain’s NHS. And, secondly, how different food standards around the US agricultural industry could impact British farmers.
When it comes to agricultural standards for imported food, the spectre of “chlorinated chickens” or “hormone-injected beef” remain stubbornly at the heart of the conversation.
The EU banned the washing of chicken in chlorine in 1997, which virtually restricted all imports of US chicken to the UK. It also has regulations in place that ban the hormone-fed beef from American farms from being imported.
Last week, one of the UK government’s scientific advisers Sir Ian Boyd said there aren’t “scientific” reasons to fear either chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef.
Instead, he said, there should be scrutiny around US-farming practices and standards around the treatment of the animals: “The issue is about production processes and animal welfare, and that is a values-based choice that people need to make.”
An NFU spokesperson also told BuzzFeed News: “British farmers are quite reasonably expected to meet the values of the British public when it comes to how our food is produced – those values must not be sacrificed in pursuit of hurried trade deals.
“As a food and farming industry, we have built the trust of the public in UK standards and production.”
BuzzFeed News has asked the US embassyc in London who has won the tender for the contract.