The European Union wants to open the European market for meat to American chicken which is treated with chemicals in order to fight possible contamination with Salmonella. Finland and Sweden are among EU member states opposed to allowing chemically-treated chicken onto the market.
"To put it bluntly, the treatment is just an attempt to cover up for poor hygiene in the early stages of production", says veterinary inspector Terhi Laaksonen of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
In the United States, the surface treatment of meat from chickens with chlorine or phosphate compounds is routine.
The Americans have long demanded that the EU change its regulations so as to allow the import of meat from American chickens into the EU.
"We do not believe that there would be actual harm to the consumer from the chemicals. They are rinsed off the surface of the meat, and they should not be dangerous."
However, Laaksonen feels that a bigger risk is that they give people a false sense of security.
"The wrong assumption arises that when meat is treated, it will have no Salmonella or Campylobacter. However, superficial treatment does not completely destroy the cause of disease."
The EU is proposing the approval of three different chlorine or phosphate compounds for use in the treatment of the surface of poultry meat. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has drawn up a risk analysis on the matter, and concluded that the measures would not pose a hazard to the consumer.
A committee vote is expected early in the summer, and the new rules could come into effect at the beginning of next year.
Laaksonen is not sure how many EU countries would introduce chemicals in their chicken production. Finland wants to ban the surface treatment of meat by raisers of chicken in this country.
"I would be surprised if the business in this country would start using the method, because hygiene is quite good here in any case."
Finnish chicken farmers put great efforts into hygiene in early production. When flocks of poultry stay clean of Salmonella, the meat is likely to be clean at the store counter as well.
The Commission proposes that the packaging of treated meat should bear a special label indicating that it has been treated.
The proposal would only affect meat that has not been marinated, minced, or otherwise handled. Finland would like to impose mandatory labelling on treated meat.
Finland is exceptional in that most packaged chicken in this country is sold in a marinade sauce", Terhi Laaksonen points out.
If the new regulation is approved, it would be possible to import treated meat from both other EU states and from third countries. Now the foodstuffs industry and restaurants import chicken from a number of countries, including Brazil and Denmark. The meat sold in food stores is almost exclusively produced in Finland.
Salmonella is clearly a bigger problem outside the Nordic region. However, Laaksonen believes that the EU countries are unlikely to jump at the opportunity of treating meat against the bacteria, as they may run up against consumer public opinion.
Finland has not yet decided how it might vote in the matter, Laaksonen emphasises. The matter is a small part of a larger whole.
"Would it be even possible to completely ban superficial treatment of meat? In countries with a big Salmonella problem it might actually help somewhat. However, restrictions to the rule should be considered."