Shocking undercover footage captured at one of America’s largest chicken companies has exposed some of the horrific reasons many US chickens need to be washed in bacteria-killing chlorine before going on sale.
A fierce row has erupted between MPs in recent weeks about the prospect of chlorinated chicken - which is a fifth cheaper than British chicken - hitting the UK’s shelves post-Brexit.
While 97% of American chicken is reportedly chlorinated, it is currently banned in the UK under EU rules over fears it incentivises lax hygiene and welfare protocols among farmers.
Now, a disturbing video released by the Humane Society of the United States has revealed that some chickens in America are living in cramped conditions among the rotting corpses of other dead birds.
The footage, taken by whistleblowers at US company Pilgrim’s Pride, shows other chickens so crippled by their own weight they are unable to walk, a consequence of being bred to grow too quickly.
North Carolina farmer Craig Watts told the Mail on Sunday that the chickens are so top heavy “it’s like two toothpicks sticking out of a grape”, with the birds forced to “spend 95% of their time sitting on the litter - a mixture of pine shavings and faecal matter”.
“Their flesh would rot and, when you have them crammed in so tight, they will walk over other birds if they want to get to the food or scratch the others and cause a wound. It is awful,” he added.
Other shots from the undercover footage - which was recorded at a contractor facility in Georgia and a slaughter house in Texas - show the rough way chickens are handled by workers.
While one man beats a bird with a metal pole to make it easier to catch, other employees throw, punch and shackle the animals before slaughter.
“If the British public needed another reason to resist American meat hitting supermarket shelves, this is it,” Friends of the Earth food and farming campaigner Kierra Box told HuffPost UK.
“The kind of appalling treatment uncovered in US chicken production goes hand in hand with bad hygiene and poor quality meat, where industrial chicken producers can rear the animals in filthy conditions and apply a chlorine wash before the meat is eaten to kill off disease-causing bacteria.”
Box continued: “The government and British supermarkets must stand up for our tough animal welfare and environmental standards, and ensure that new UK trade deals don’t prop up such mistreatment, or the environmental degradation and pollution that accompany industrial meat production.”
The undercover video comes amid a row about chlorinated chicken in the UK that has threatened to split the cabinet.
Environment secretary Michael Gove has insisted that the UK will not accept US-imported chlorinated chicken post-Brexit, with a House of Lords investigation predicting farmers could be sucked into a “race to the bottom” as they struggle to keep prices low.
“We need to be in a position as we leave the European Union to be leaders in environmental and in animal welfare standards,” Gove said last week.
However, the Daily Telegraph reported that trade secretary Liam Fox, who was in the US for talks last week, supports the idea of importing the chlorine-washed poultry.
While Fox slammed the media as “obsessed” when he was asked to eat chlorinated chicken during his trop to the states, he refused to specifically rule out the sale of the poultry during an interview with the BBC.
In a statement run by numerous American news sites, Pilgrim’s Pride said it had terminated the contract with the Georgia farm where some of the whistleblower footage was filmed, saying the well-being of chickens is an “uncompromising commitment”.
“Pilgrim’s will not tolerate animal abuse,” a spokesperson said. “We regret these actions have taken place and are immediately taking steps to reinforce our commitment to animal welfare throughout our supply chain and in our production processes.”