USDA proposes to allow cooked chicken from China

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Import of Chinese cooked chicken to US up for debate

Related tags International trade Food safety

A proposed rule to allow China to export cooked chicken from poultry slaughtered in the country to the US has been described as a ‘slap in the face to American consumers’ by a congresswoman.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) published the rule and comments can be made until 15 August​.

The agency said it has reviewed China’s laws, regulations and poultry slaughter inspection system and determined it is equivalent to the one the US has under the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).

Currently, China is only eligible to export poultry to the US that have been processed from birds slaughtered in US sites or slaughter facilities in other US-eligible countries, according to Keller and Heckman.

Trade over health and safety

The US and China recently reached a trade deal involving China lifting a ban on imports of US beef.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said President Trump and officials at USDA are prioritizing trade over health and safety.

How can the USDA tell American families that China’s food safety system is equal to the US when China has repeatedly faced serious challenges with weak enforcement of food safety laws and regulations - including problems specifically related to poultry products?

“The decision to allow China to export chicken to the US is a slap in the face to American consumers and threatens our food supply.Given China’s atrocious food safety history, it is a moral imperative to ensure that the food we serve our children and seniors is safe.”

Mike Brown, National Chicken Council president, said it supports free and fair trade. 

“In order to be effective, free trade must operate as a two-way street. Any country that is able to meet the stringent food safety standards set by USDA should be able to compete in a marketplace free of protectionism and artificial trade barriers.”

US chicken has been blocked by China since January 2015, when the country issued a blanket ban over issues related to avian influenza. 

Poultry exports to China peaked in 2008 with an export value of $722m.

Brown said because of the country’s comparative advantage it is difficult for other countries to compete as the US imports very little poultry products.

“Our comparative advantage in producing and marketing these products derives from both our access to America’s abundant production of high quality feed grain and soybean products which are used to feed our flocks; and from America’s technological leadership in poultry genetics and breeding, precision feed formulation, and animal health practices.”

In 2014 FSIS certified four Chinese facilities to export processed poultry products to the US but only if they used raw chicken from the US, Canada or Chile, said the Safe Food Coalition.

USDA said in the short term the volume of trade is likely to be small because China only intends to certify five slaughter sites to provide poultry to certified processing plants to export fully-cooked poultry products to the US.

The agency added it has not estimated potential long term impact but China is the second largest poultry producing country in the world.

China will not be allowed to export raw poultry to the US, because USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has classified it as a region affected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.

Food & Water Watch demands names of NPIS uptakers

Meanwhile, Food & Water Watch has filed a suit against the USDA and FSIS for failing to release information related to its New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch executive director, called on USDA and FSIS to release the names of poultry slaughter plants planning to enter the NPIS program.

“Consumers deserve to know if the meat they’re serving their families is mostly inspected by the companies themselves. If these facilities are really more effective at ensuring that food doesn’t contain deadly contaminants, then what is USDA and FSIS hiding?”

Maximum line speeds for plants that adopt the NPIS are capped at 140 birds per minute. Line speeds of turkey facilities went up from 51 to 55 birds per minute.

Poultry facilities are required to do microbiological testing at two points in the production process to show they are controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Food & Water Watch said as of March, 53 poultry slaughter plants had converted to NPIS including Tyson, Butterball, Perdue and Pilgrim’s Pride.

Without identifying facilities the public cannot see how the agency is evaluating requests for admission or which plants are likely to participate in the future, said the group.

“If USDA wants to claim that NPIS is on track to prevent thousands of cases of foodborne illness a year, as it estimated in 2014, it should easily be able provide such an evaluation. But the agency won’t even tell us which plants plan to join the program​,” added Hauter.

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