USDA to Allow Importation of US-Raised Chickens Processed in China for Human Consumption

By Abigail Wilkinson | July 2, 2014 | 4:51 PM EDT


Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) (Wikipedia)

(  --  Just as major pet food suppliers are phasing out made-in-China pet treats due to fear of contamination, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cleared the way for the importation of chickens for human consumption that have been raised and slaughtered in the U.S. but processed in China.

“The USDA declared that China is eligible to export processed, cooked chicken to the United States, paving the way for chicken sourced in the United States to be shipped to China for processing and then sold back to American consumers," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Committee on China (CECC) during a congressional hearing on June 17.

"Very soon this processed chicken could end up on our dinner tables and in our school lunchrooms,” Brown warned.

The Chinese processing system will be audited annually and the imported chicken will be inspected upon entry into the United States, but there will be no USDA inspector on site in any of the four plants eligible to import chicken to the U.S., according to Dr. Daniel Engeljohn, assistant administrator of the Office of Field Operations at the Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS).

Several members of Congress penned a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, expressing their concern "given China's past lapses in enforcing its food safety laws."

Last August, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued the results of on-site audits that cleared the way for China to import chickens slaughtered in the U.S.or other approved nations and export the cooked, processed chicken back to the U.S.

One American living in China said in an interview with The Hill that she was “horrified to learn that any food from America might come here to be processed,” adding that, in her opinion, “it will certainly return contaminated - even if nothing is added to it.”

It also might be difficult for U.S. consumers to discern where the imported meat was processed when it appears in grocery stores and restaurants. The Country of Origin Labeling Law requires that customers are made aware of the source of various foods.

However, it has several notable loopholes. For example, cooked meats are exempt. Furthermore, according to the Poultry Products Inspection Act, labeling is only required for the “immediate container” of the imported product.

Chicken imported from China could also find its way into Ready-to-Eat (RTE) meals used by the military and in school lunches, although the USDA says that "schools have the option of using only products that are 100 percent domestically grown and processed."

Although some view sending American-produced meat to China for processing as financially unfeasible, meat-processing workers in the United States earn an average of $11.21 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is much higher than the $326 per month salary of one Chinese poultry worker.

(AP photo)

Food safety concerns have been so strong that a petition entitled “Congress: Keep Chinese Chicken Out of Our Schools and Supermarkets!” has already garnered 324,532 supporters.

Such concerns are not unreasonable. The CECC hearing also covered the thousands of pet illnesses and deaths occurring after the animals consumed pet jerky treats manufactured in China.

“Just last month, the FDA {Food & Drug Administration] said that reports of illnesses had increased to 5,600 pets, including 1,000 dog deaths, and now three human illnesses. While no cause has been identified despite extensive study, the illnesses may be linked to pet treats from China,” Brown said in his opening statement.

“Days later, major pet stores Petco and Petsmart announced they would be phasing out the sale of pet treats from China out of safety concerns,” the senator noted.

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Chinese infants have fallen ill from contaminated milk powder; dozens were arrested in 2013 for selling rat meat as mutton; the widespread spraying of cabbages with formaldehyde was discovered in 2012; and dental cement was used by fishmongers to tranquilize live seafood during transport.

“One would think that this issue would be solved already if China transferred resources to food safety from censoring the Internet and cracking down on free speech and political dissent,” said CECC co-chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), adding, "There is a direct connection between better human rights conditions in China and food safety.”

“Safety before profits is the message that has to be sent to producers, processors, and manufacturers,” Smith told hearing attendees.

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