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Chickens in the United States are packed in grim sheds before they are killed and washed in chlorine - a type of meat that could soon come to the UK.

The birds are genetically changed to grow super-fast and suffer a string of health problems, the Mirror reports.

A campaigner described the conditions as "cruel".

Government environment secretary George Eustice has not ruled out chlorine-washed meat being sold here.

The chickens are crammed into an airless room with limited space, covered in sores and they spend just seven weeks alive before being slaughtered.

Their throats are slit at a slaughterhouse and they are plucked by machines and washed in chlorine.

The Mirror’s Christopher Bucktin inside a chicken broiler house

They are engineered by geneticists to grow quicker and if they were human - they would weigh the equivalent of 47 stone within a matter of weeks.

For 23 years, chlorine-washed chickens have been banned in the European Union over fears it masks poor hygiene standards.

But post-Brexit, American poultry producers are insisting we accept their lower welfare conditions as part of any new tie-up.

The Mirror visited a farm in Gainesville, Georgia, to see what is known in the area as "white gold".

The shed, which was silent, despite containing 30,000 birds, had an overpowering smell of faeces and ammonia.

Most of the chickens had lost their feathers, exposing red raw flesh. The whole underside of almost every chicken "appeared like an unbroken bedsore".

Some don't make it to slaughter as a result of their abnormally accelerated weight gain and can die of heart attacks and collapes lungs.

Poultry Science Journal said that if humans grew at the same rate as the chickens, they would weigh 47 stone at eight weeks.

A chicken reared in a grim mega shed in the US (Image: Mirror)

The noxious compound of nitrogen and hydrogen emitted by the birds can make them go blind.

One farmer said: "The whole industry is run like a big cartel by the big companies. Break the rules and you are dead to them.

"You're gone. The poultry manufacturers provide everything... the birds, the feed, the antibiotics, the whole nine yards.

"All we are now are landlords renting out our sheds for their tenants seven weeks at a time.

"One wrong move, though, and you're gone. It's like dealing with the mafia.

"Their websites may say they care about animal welfare, but their chief concern is profit".

Humane Society International’s Dr Sara Shields said: "Consumers are right to be concerned about importing US chickens.

"They are crowded together in barren, dark sheds. Under industry standards, each bird lives in a space equivalent in size to A4 paper.

"Crowding can result in higher ammonia levels, skin irritation from wet litter, and scabs and scratches on the backs of birds from climbing over one another in such crowded space."

Fieldale Farms president Tom Hensley said of the facilities: "They are spotless.

"It's safe. Otherwise, 350 million Americans would be sick every week."

Former trade secretary Liam Fox said there are "no health reasons why you couldn't eat chickens washed in chlorine".

But some experts said it won't kill all bacteria present.

Chicken on a chopping board (file picture) (Image: PA)

Simon Dawson, of Cardiff Metropolitan University, said hygiene standards in the US are "not as rigid as the EU".

"Incorporating a disinfection spray wash is designed to remove pathogenic bacteria.

"We have worked tirelessly to improve hygiene and welfare standards of poultry".

The environment secretary said there were "no plans" to change the law, but refused to rule out chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef being imported from the US.

"We are absolutely clear as a government we will not take risks either without food standards and when it comes to animal welfare, we will be projecting our views on the international stage", he said.

Labour's shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said chlorinated chicken being sold in Britain is a "genuine risk", unless this back door to "lower standard US goods imports is closed and a ban is put into law".

Chlorine-washing has been banned in the EU since 1997 as it maintains relying on a chlorine rinse at the end of meat production is a way of compensating for poor hygiene standards like dirty rearing sheds or crowded abattoirs.


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