The European parliament on Thursday, opposed plans by the European Commission to lift an import ban on US poultry washed in chlorine, which has attracted fierce opposition from member states, consumers and farmers.
A non-binding resolution passed by a large majority of the parliament meeting in Strasbourg said the proposal "is out of step with both the European public's food safety and hygiene expectations and the demand for production models ... which ensure that high hygiene standards are maintained throughout the production and distribution process."
"It would be likely to undermine European consumer confidence in foodstuffs sold within the European Union, which remains fragile following the food safety problems that have arisen within the Union over recent years," the resolution added.
Under the proposal, poultry disinfected with chlorine and three other chemicals would be allowed in the 27-nation European Union, although under extremely strict conditions.
The practice of disinfecting chicken meat with the solutions, which would have to be clearly labelled on packaging, would also be allowed only for an initial two years while more scientific checks are carried out.
Despite broad opposition, EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen has sought a proposal to lift the ban, in place since 1997 over health fears about a chlorine washing process common in the United States.
The issue has been a source of contention in EU-US trade relations and the German commissioner has led efforts to get it lifted, stirring tensions within member states and the European Commission.
On Tuesday Health Commissioner Androula Vassiliou conceded that at a meeting of the EU executive's food chain and animal health committee on June 2 all 27 member states expressed a negative opinion bar one, which abstained.
She said the Commission had gone ahead with the proposal despite the EU domestic opposition to it "because there has been a request for approval which could not be left unanswered, considering also our international commitments."
She added that scientific opinions indicated that the authorisation could go ahead "provided it is flanked by a number of strict conditions, as we did."
The plan will now be put to EU ministers, but Vassiliou was philosophical about its chances.
"As you know, if a qualified majority of member states is against this proposal, it will not be adopted, so we will see the end result under the French presidency," she said.
France, Europe's biggest poultry producer, has led opposition to scrapping the ban, which Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier described as "a symbolic issue."
"The Americans don't have to buy our chickens (and) we don't have to accept theirs," he told reporters recently at a meeting with EU counterparts in Slovenia.
The US food industry uses the chlorine washing process on its poultry to kill off bacteria, including salmonella, before it reaches consumers' plates.
EU veterinary experts favour hygiene controls throughout the hatching and rearing cycle to better ensure that the bacteria does not develop in the first place.