Coming to your table soon; processed chicken from China.Thanks to a recent USDA Department of Agriculture ruling, poultry processed in China, can now be sold in the United States.
Remember the Avian influenza H5N1, aka “Bird Flu” – that highly pathogenic virus that first infected humans during a poultry outbreak in China? A new strain of bird flu, H7N9, from chicken flocks, infected humans this year and has already killed 45 people. It started in …You guessed it, China.
Next question: Why would the USDA Department of Agriculture allow processed chicken from China into the United States?
How It Evolved
In one word: politics. If we want access to Chinese markets, we need to grant China access to ours.
The U.S. last year exported $354.1 million worth of poultry products to China, representing about 7 percent of total U.S. poultry exports, according to Census Bureau data. This granted access stems from a 2004 request from China to the USDA to audit its processing plants so poultry could be exported to the United States.
Pursuant to five years of audits, Congress lifted the ban on processed poultry from China in 2009, on the basis that China’s facilities were equivalent to those in the U.S. Over the next four years, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) worked with China, to certify their food safety inspection system for processed poultry met the United States standard for equivalency.
Under the terms of the trade agreement, the imported processed chicken from China must be fully cooked to an internal temperature of 165.2°F prior to export and processed only from chickens slaughtered in the U.S. or Canada and exported to China for processing. No chickens raised or slaughtered in China are eligible for export to the United States. The USDA would also conduct border inspections and China’s processing facilities would be audited annually.
What You Don’t Know, Can Hurt You
You probably won’t know if you’re eating cooked chicken products that came from China such as chicken wings, chicken nuggets, or chicken noodle soup because currently, processed foods do not require Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).
Country of Origin Labeling is a labeling law that requires retailers notify their customers with information on the label regarding the source of certain foods. Under the current law, where chicken is concerned, only raw muscle cuts and ground chicken are included.
In our global economy, U.S. poultry companies enjoy access to the Chinese market. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. broiler chicken product exports in 2010 were 6.8 billion pounds, worth $3.1 billion, about 18% of all U.S. production. About $680 million went to China. Of course, China expects reciprocation – but at what cost?
Since 2007, we have seen from China: tainted baby formula, evidence of melamine in pet food and eggs, and, shrimp, catfish and carp with illegal antibiotics and chemicals. This year, 580 dogs in the U.S. have died after eating chicken jerky treats made in China.
Is the USDA’s newest ruling the first step in opening the door for China to export Chinese raised poultry to the United States? Given China’s food safety track record, that’s the fear of many, including Food & Water Watch, a non-profit organization that works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced.
The good news is the Local, Natural & Sustainable movement continues to gain momentum within our domestic food industry. Expect more and more consumers to support its growth.