USDA Says: Okay to ship U.S Chickens to China for cheap processing then back home for you to eat
Get ready for processed chicken nuggets & more, shipped from China, without USDA inspectors in those plants.
Oh I’m not kidding right on the heels of the fake meat scandal the USDA felt compelled to end 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.
In China this year alone, thousands of dead pigs turned up in the waters of Shanghai, rat meat was passed off as mutton and — perhaps most disconcerting for U.S. consumers – there was an outbreak of the among live fowl in fresh meat markets. So it makes sense that the USDA would approve food coming from China, right?
“Initially, at least, the chickens will be slaughtered in the U.S. (or another nation that’s allowed to export slaughtered chicken to the U.S.), then shipped to China for processing and re-export. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, according to the New York Times, no USDA inspectors will be present in the Chinese processing plants (despite the fact that China has never before been allowed to export chicken to the U.S.), thus offering consumers no guarantees where the processed chickens were in fact slaughtered.
Even worse, because the birds will be processed, the USDA will not require point-of-origin labeling (under USDA rules, foods that have been cooked aren’t subject to point-of-origin labeling). In other words: Consumers will have no way to tell if those chicken nuggets in the supermarket freezer were processed in the U.S. or in China.
A similar process is already being used for U.S. seafood.
According to the Seattle Times, domestically caught Pacific salmon and Dungeness crab are being processed in China and shipped back to the U.S. because of significant cost savings.
“There are 36 pin bones in a salmon and the best way to remove them is by hand,” said Charles Bundrant, founder of Trident, which ships about 30 million pounds of its 1.2 billion-pound annual harvest to China for processing. “Something that would cost us $1 per pound labor here, they get it done for 20 cents in China.”
What was the USDA thinking when it decided to sign-off on Chinese processed chicken exports for humans? Probably not the best interest of American consumers. Rather, U.S. beef and poultry producers have long sought to have the restrictions lifted in hope of encouraging Beijing to reciprocate and open its huge market to more U.S. meat exports (U.S. beef is currently banned for import into China). It’s a reasonable goal, and one that the USDA should pursue — just not at the expense of a safe U.S. food supply.