Chinese Chicken, Food Safety, and USDA

Here’s a bit of news that might make you drop that chicken nugget midbite.

Just before the start of the long holiday weekend last Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly announced that it was ending a ban on processed chicken imports from China. The kicker: These products can now be sold in the U.S. without a country-of-origin label.

For starters, just four Chinese processing plants will be allowed to export cooked chicken products to the U.S., as first reported by Politico. The plants in question passed USDA inspection in March. Initially, these processors will only be allowed to export chicken products made from birds that were raised in the U.S. and Canada. Because of that, the poultry processors won’t be required to have a USDA inspector on site, as The New York Times notes, adding:

“And because the poultry will be processed, it will not require country-of-origin labeling. Nor will consumers eating chicken noodle soup from a can or chicken nuggets in a fast-food restaurant know if the chicken came from Chinese processing plants.”

Earlier in the week I reported on the concerns that small farmers have about the newly proposed FDA food safety regulations. Now I read the USDA allows CHINESE poultry processing plants to convert American or Canadian chickens (chickens raised 2,000 miles from the processor) and to market them WITHOUT country-of-origin labeling. The Chinese processor will also NOT need a poultry processing inspector on site.

Don’t get me wrong…I want all the people of the world to prosper and be healthy…and the Chinese are part of ‘all the people of the world’.

Call me crazy, but combining what I know about the new FDA proposed food safety regulations with what I know about this recent USDA ruling….I think the American political leaders on food and agriculture look like fools.

Again I’m going to go out on a political limb – but it does not appear that these policies are being driven by government decision-making in the public interest.

And there is more:

And, chicken lovers, brace yourselves: There’s more. A report suggests chicken inspections here in the U.S. might be poised to take a turn for the worse. The Government Accountability Office report said this week it has serious “questions about the validity” of the new procedures for inspecting poultry across the country.

Basically, these changes would replace many USDA inspectors on chicken processing lines with employees from the poultry companies themselves. The USDA has been piloting the new procedures, which will save money and significantly speed up processing lines, in 29 chicken plants. As The Washington Post , the plan is to roll out the new procedures eventually to “most of the country’s 239 chicken and 96 turkey plants.”

The problem? According to the GAO, the USDA did a poor job of evaluating the effectiveness of the pilot programs it has in place.

As a result, the report concludes, it’s hard to justify the USDA’s conclusions that the new procedures will do a better job than current approaches at cutting down on the number of dangerous bacteria like salmonella that pop up on the birds that will later end up on our dinner tables.


Here is the NPR Report

Here is one of the many comments at the NPR Report (I find it too cynical, but the reference to food as ‘protein’ is totally valid commentary on our industrial food industry’s mechanistic view of what nourishes us.)

I think US-Based poultry producers are playing The Long Game here, looking for a quid pro quo from China hoping it will now open its doors to US produced chicken – it’s all about the money – Agra-producers of protein need to push the cheapest possible product out to the largest number of consumers, regardless of the ethical questions of how the animals are raised or slaughtered, regardless of the conditions of the workers who do the processing, and regardless of the safety of product that finds it’s way onto the tables of our families. It’s about a Machine that processes protein worldwide for mass consumption at the lowest possible unit cost. It’s about how Industry’s money subverts the safety process via purchased politicians. It’s going to happen, and there’s nothing you or I or anyone else can do about it.

Here is the USDA Ruling on the Chinese Processors.

And, by the way, I think there ARE things you and I can do about these food ethics issues!