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Chlorine In U.S. Processed Chicken Holding Up Trade Deal With Europe

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- It's called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or T-TIP for short. The ambitious trade and investment agreement is now getting hammered out between the U.S. and the European Union. But it's hit a massive stumbling block - over how Americans process a favorite food: chicken.

When it comes to chicken, Michelle Guidi prefers "antibiotic-free", organically-raised birds.

"I'm feeding my children and my husband, this is my family so I want to feed them the healthiest options out there," said Guidi.

But did she check for chickens that are chorine free? "No I didn't," said the Dublin mother.

Most U.S. poultry plants plunge freshly slaughtered birds into chilling baths.

"We need to quickly get that temperature down," said Tom Super, who represents The National Chicken Council.

These baths often contain antimicrobial chemicals that can include chlorine. Super explained how the chlorine is heavily diluted, "in order to kill pathogens that might be present like salmonella."

A tiny amount during the cooling in the chill tanks gets absorbed into the meat, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service documents.

That surprised Michelle Guidi.

"Yes I use bleach to clean my whites, my children swim in chlorine but ingesting it and eating it? I feel a little apprehensive," said Guidi.

However, government regulators said this use of chlorine is safe and effective in poultry processing. There are numerous substances that may be used in the production of meat, poultry and egg products.

Studies show once the chlorine hits the bird, it breaks down into safe byproducts.

But, that's not what the European Union said. A French political ad, put out by La Brigade des Poulets anti-GMT shows American Chickens bathing in swimming pool water. They fear chlorine causes cancer.

While there's no evidence to back up their claims, one U.S. consumer watch group explains why they want to keep U.S. poultry off their supermarket shelves.

"They operate on what's called the precautionary principle," said Tony Corbo of Food & Water Watch. "Since there is controversy about using chlorine and other chemicals in poultry processing, they have decided to keep our poultry out."

Poultry from the U.S. has been kept out of the European Union for nearly two decades. Super of The National Chicken Council that has cost U.S. Poultry Farmers $600 million a year.

"Unfortunately, this is a matter that political science has trumped sound science," said Super.

120 countries accept how the U.S. processes poultry.

There is a different approach that's on display inside of Cal-Mart in San Francisco's Laurel Village. Inside, you'll find Anthony Antonelli who runs Antonelli's Meat, Fish and Poultry. Antonelli's has been around for 50 years.

"This is the best-selling chicken we've ever had," said Antonelli.

At his meat counter, consumers flock to buy Mary's Air-Chilled Chickens. This chicken is raised and produced in California's Central Valley.

Mary Pitman and her son David raise their birds differently: from egg, to chick, to farm, to slaughterhouse.

"I can't eat a chicken that's dunked in a chlorine bath and that, that's what makes us very different," Mary Pitman explained.

At their plant, the Pitman's blast freshly slaughtered birds with very cold air to lower their temperature.
That's how it's done in Europe.

"They're not in a water chilled chlorine bath for an hour, we're instead air chilling them with air for three hours," explained David Pitman.

A whole chilled chicken from Mary's costs about $2 more than chicken KPIX 5 bought at Safeway.

Even so, Michelle Guidi might consider buying it. "If it's the right choice for my family health wise, I'd be willing to pay more money for it," said Guidi.

However, whether it's air-chilled or bath chilled, you still have to be careful handling raw poultry. These methods only keep potentially dangerous pathogens in check. They won't sterilize the bird.

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