Similarly, the European Union banned the import of chlorinated American chicken in 1997, owing to concern that a chlorine wash allows lower hygiene standards in farms. Arguments over chlorinated chickens also proved a big stumbling block in negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a now-failed trade deal between America and the EU. Some Britons fear that if they leave the EU any trade deal signed with America would require them to accept imports of such chickens.
Although the chicken boom has been good for consumers, animal-welfare advocates worry that the meat industry’s costcutting measures have come at the expense of the birds. Vicky Bond of the Humane League, an animal-welfare campaign group, says the size of modern chickens is the cause of the worst problems. Broilers have breast muscles which are too big for their bones to support, leading to lameness. In Colchester the chickens are so unresponsive to humans that they resemble zombies. Indeed, modern chickens have become so big that their muscles prevent them from getting on top of each other to mate (meaning they have to be starved before they are able to consider romance).
Partly because of advocacy by animalwelfare charities, and partly because meat has become so affordable, more consumers are now willing to pay for meat raised in better conditions. Sales of free-range and organic chickens, which—unlike most broilers—have access to the outdoors, are surging. In the Netherlands, a recent public outcry over enormous plofkip (which translates as “exploded chicken”) was so intense that retailers switched in droves to breeds that grow more slowly. Plofkip’s share of the Dutch market plummeted from around 60% in 2015 to 5% in 2017. In Britain sales of free-range eggs have overtaken those of caged ones.