While Great Britain argued and deliberated over Brexit (leaving the European Union), the US was largely focused on the daily iterations of its 45th president and the multitude of attention-grabbing events spawned during his administration. Then, both nations were slammed by COVID and the focus of attention shifted once again, although 45 continued to dominate as folks became infected and perished. We may assume for the moment that a less stressed set of views will return to the constituents on both sides of the pond as the pandemic declines and all learn that Mar-a-Lago is not the center of the known universe.
The two nations shared, in part, the experience of an electoral populism that fueled Brexit and the ascendancy of Trumpism. The UK’s separation from the European Union was formalized on January 6, 2021, a day at which the US experienced – hopefully – the end point of its recent populist and nationalist mania romance. Britain’s divorce from the EU has brought increased pressure to undertake commercial and trade replacement arrangements independently with other partners, particularly the US. However, if chickens are any sign, then trans-Atlantic trade between the two faces obstacles that did not disappear upon Brexit.
The UK’s populism primarily originated as a matter of concern over national identity, with its electorate chafing at the diminishment of what it means to be English. And it was not merely the euro for the pound that rankled Brits over the 47 years it was a member of the EU. In the four years under Trump, US relationships across the globe were subjected to isolationist and nationalist expressions by the administration, lending some support to Brexit. Britain’s vote in 2016 to leave the EU resulted from several similar threads of anti-globalism and xenophobia.
One somewhat more slender thread of Britain’s populism has been its cherished fondness for its agricultural – not gastronomic – heritage. England’s farm voices were crucial to its divorce from Europe. Now, those same voices have been raised concerning the importation of US chicken in any trade agreement.
This brings us to the chickens. One somewhat more slender thread of Britain’s populism has been its cherished fondness for its agricultural – not gastronomic – heritage. England’s farm voices were crucial to its divorce from Europe. Now, those same voices have been raised concerning the importation of US chicken in any trade agreement.
According to a recent New York Times article, no US chicken parts are allowed to be exported to the UK because they are washed with chlorine as prevention against infectious pathogens. But US chicken is not without a foothold in the UK, as several US chicken franchises (KFC, Church’s) operate in a few urban locations. Nor is there any indication that Brits suffer from alektorphobia (fear of chickens). Finally, there was no identifiable publicly available data to ascertain the nationality of the chicken meat used at the franchise restaurants.
While most observers, however, are of the opinion that the anti-chicken complaint is a remnant of the regard for Britain’s agricultural industry, others believe it is a proxy for sustaining a purist Brexit outlook. A type of “we still got pride” mentality, or, Brexit means what it says. While “chlorinated chicken” does not sound appetizing, neither does spotted dick, a popular traditional Brit pudding.
The confluence of the January 6 date in both countries may be purely coincidental but may also be symbolic. On the other hand, the success of Brexit for the UK also depends to a large degree upon the continued “united” part of the UK. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have expressed strong interest in following an independent path from the British Brexit, and the glory of the royal family now experiencing some color infiltration.
Other observers of the cross-Atlantic relationship offer a less conflicted vision over the long run on the basis that US chicken can successfully compete in the UK, outweighing populist prejudices and even Boris Johnson. Tom Super, a spokesperson for the US National Chicken Council (who knew clucksters had spoxfolks?) characterized the criticism as mere protectionism and that most US chickens are no longer bathed in chlorine but peracetic acid. That change, of course, ought to silence the Anglo-Saxon outcry.
Any threatened tariffs on US chicken is likely to result in a tariff crossfire between the two countries, with the poultry in the middle. One Euro wag noted that “the UK side is keen for a deal, but not so keen on chicken.” Time will tell.