US ambassador to UK slams critics of American agriculture

LONDON — The U.S. ambassador to Britain has attacked what he described as a "smear" campaign against American agriculture by interests with a protectionist agenda.

Woody Johnson said in an article published in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday that U.S. food products are safe, and that scare stories about "chlorine-washed chicken" and "hormone-pumped beef" are being used to mislead the public. The comments come as Britain prepares to negotiate its own trade deals with the U.S. and other countries after Britain's departure from the European Union set for later this month.

"You have been presented with a false choice: either stick to EU directives, or find yourselves flooded with American food of the lowest quality," Johnson wrote. "Inflammatory and misleading terms like 'chlorinated chicken' and 'hormone beef' are deployed to cast American farming in the worst possible light. It is time the myths are called out for what they really are: a smear campaign."

Johnson says American producers use "scientific" and "technological" tools to feed a growing global population, in contrast to the European Union's "Museum of Agriculture."

Chlorinated chicken - or chlorine-treated chicken - refer to chicken carcasses that have been treated with antimicrobial rinses to remove harmful bacteria. The practice is common in the U.S. but banned in the EU.

When asked about allowing the import of such chicken in 2017, Environment Secretary Michael Gove told the BBC flatly that it would not be allowed, saying that the U.K. would not "dilute our high animal welfare standards" in pursuit of a trade deal.

The U.K.'s National Farmers Union has raised concerns about U.S. practices, saying trade deals shouldn't allow imports produced "to lower standards than those required of British farmers."

While the president of the union, Minette Batters, did not dispute that chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef were "safe," she said other factors were worth considering in the debate about whether it should be allowed.

"Our consumer has demanded high standards of animal welfare, we've risen to that challenge," she told the BBC. "(Johnson's) right to make the point that food security is crucially important, we would say the same. But all we're saying is: 'Produce the food to our standards and we'll have a trade deal.'"

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This version corrects that the comment from Michael Gove was made in 2017, not last year.

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