Belfast Telegraph

Headless chickens negotiating Brexit trade deals so desperate that they'll put nation's health at risk

By Lindy McDowell

Today's special on the menu at Restaurant Brexit - American-style chicken ... "Whole chicken lavishly coated in a sumptuous chlorine sauce, accompanied by US-farmed beef infused with piquant antibiotics and drizzled with our own-recipe hormone jus.

"All served with Trump administration chippiness, a generous side-helping of fiery Tory bickering and a big dollop of May-unease."

American chicken. They're overfed, overweight, overchlorinated. And if the Yanks get their way, they'll soon be over here.

Desperate to do a trade deal with America that would help take up some of the slack when the UK is excluded from the lucrative EU marketplace, our Government (can I use that term, Niall Ó Donnghaile?) is considering dropping a ban on importing chicken from the US.

Understandably, this has created much controversy.

It's estimated that currently well over 90% of American chickens are doused in chlorine and other dubious disinfectants post-slaughter.

Poultry farming in the States has been described as "virtually unregulated" and there are distressing reports of widespread cruelty in the intensive farming system. The Sumo-sized birds are raised for maximum profit with very little regard for their welfare or living conditions.

Which is why, once slaughtered, they have to be hosed down with chemicals to combat the inevitable food poisoning threat arising from faecal contamination.

Yum.

That's stomach-churning enough, for starters.

But there are other reasons why I am baffled the Government would even consider Chicken a la Chlorine.

The likes of Deliveroo may have normalised our habit of sending out for food. But Carolina still seems a helluva long way to go for a chicken burger.

Especially when we have poultry producers here on our own doorstep. Especially here in Northern Ireland, where there are any number of well-known chicken producers, including the long-standing Moy Park firm which employs hundreds of people.

There's obviously a limit as to how much chicken people can eat. Once the cheap US variety comes flooding in, we all know what is likely to happen to local jobs and local livelihoods.

And, just as importantly, to regulation governing the welfare of the poor birds.

We have a tendency in these parts to get on our high horse about animal rights when we're talking about ... well ... horses, or dogs or cats.

Hens equally deserve decent treatment. Not least because they feature in the human food chain.

This is also about consumer health.

US chicken breast, sautéed in disinfectant, just should not be on the Government's menu.

Yet the foremost government advocate of American chicken, the appropriately named Liam Fox MP, nonchalantly assures us that "Americans have been eating it perfectly safely for years".

This is the nation that elected Donald Trump. I think, Mr Fox, we shouldn't necessarily take it as read that their consumption of chlorinated drumsticks hasn't had some sort of detrimental effect.

And being honest, the dodgy chicken is on the talks table - along with the possibility of hormone-laced American beef imports - only because US trade negotiators know how desperate the UK is, post-Brexit, to land a good deal.

Our potential American trading partners have us over a barrel. As indeed, will all other potential trading partners.

Post-Brexit, the Government is still running round like a headless chicken.

And the tragedy is that Northern Ireland's agricultural industry, regulated and responsible when it comes to animal welfare and healthy produce, is particularly prone.

Why did the chicken cross the Atlantic? With no evidence of a clear, defined, concerted strategy to handle trade talks, and with the relentless bickering between Brexit ministers, it's the old story of chickens coming home to roost.

Careful what you wish for, Wills and Harry

When Princes William and Harry took part in the television programme marking the 20th anniversary of their mother's death, they commented that there was a whole new generation who didn't remember Diana and they wanted to bring her to their attention. Got your wish on that one, boys.

The media, from magazines to television, are once again awash with War of the Waleses nostalgia, rehashed conspiracy theories over her tragic death and vintage taped revelations.

It's annus horribilis revisited. The Queen of Hearts tribute tour.

Could Belfast be too cool for hen parties?

There are a lot of people in sashes walking around the city centre these days. And no one saying a word as they parade past.

Belfast seems to have become the European Capital of Hen and Stag Dos, judging by the legions of women in pink sashes and co-ordinating fairy wings, and men in clingy, green Lycra bodysuits pounding the pub circuit.

I'd be the last to spoil anyone's fun. And the trade is welcome in the hospitality industry, I'm sure. But Belfast has just recently acquired a reputation as a cool city-break destination. Do we really want to ruin that by encouraging the naff hen party pound?

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