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Chicken from China? Your Seafood is Already Being Processed There

Opinion

Thanks to our Change.org petition (307,000-plus signatures and rising), millions of Americans have learned that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is about to allow U.S chickens to be sent to China for processing and then shipped back to the U.S. for human consumption.

This arrangement is particularly alarming given China’s appalling food safety record and the fact that there will be no on-site USDA inspectors in those plants. In addition, American consumers will never know that chicken processed in China is in foods like chicken soup or chicken nuggets because there’s no requirement to label it as such.

One frequent refrain we’ve heard is that no U.S. company will ever ship chicken to China for processing because it doesn’t make economic sense. This was precisely the claim made by Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, in a recent Houston Chronicle article about our petition:

“Economically, it doesn’t make much sense,” Super said. “Think about it: A Chinese company would have to purchase frozen chicken in the United States, pay to ship it 7,000 miles, unload it, transport it to a processing plant, unpack it, cut it up, process/cook it, freeze it, repack it, transport it back to a port, then ship it another 7,000 miles. I don’t know how anyone could make a profit doing that.”

Well, guess what? It clearly does make economic sense because this process is already being used for U.S. seafood. According to the Seattle Times, domestically caught Pacific salmon and Dungeness crab are currently being processed in China and shipped back to the U.S., all because of significant cost savings:

“…  fish processors in the Northwest, including Seattle-based Trident Seafoods, are sending part of their catch of Alaskan salmon or Dungeness crab to China to be filleted or de-shelled before returning to U.S. tables.

“There are 36 pin bones in a salmon and the best way to remove them is by hand,” says 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.”

Considerably lower Chinese labor costs are what make the arrangement profitable, even when factoring in round-trip shipping costs over 14,000 miles. Here’s how it works:

The fish are de-headed and gutted on the ship in the Bering Sea, then frozen and sent to China, says Douglas Forsyth, Premier Pacific’s president. Once there, they are boned, skinned and cut into portions of 2 ounces to 6 ounces, he says …

Even factoring in 20 cents a pound in transportation costs, processing in China is still cheaper for the most labor-intensive fish, says Trident’s Bundrant.

So let’s turn back to the question of U.S. chicken.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that American poultry processors are typically paid a little more than $11 per hour on average. While we could find no analogous statistics for Chinese poultry workers, this recent news account of a fire at a Chinese poultry processing plant quotes a worker as saying he earns 2,000 yuan ($326) per month, or between $1-2 per hour.

So, under the Pacific salmon/Dungeness crab model, it seems perfectly plausible that American poultry suppliers will find it makes good economic sense to ship U.S. chicken all the way to China and back for processing.

But, as we state in our petition (along with co-petitioner Barbara Kowalcyk), good economic sense should never trump valid concerns about food safety. And China’s food safety system, which is decades behind ours, can only be described as horrific, as evidenced by just some of the more recent food safety scandals in that country:

Now that it’s clear that processing U.S. chicken in China makes sense economically, it’s even more critical that Congress, President Obama, and his administration stop chicken from, or processed in, China from reaching our supermarkets and the meals we feed our schoolchildren by:

(1) Ensuring that Chinese-processed chicken is not included in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program; and

(2) Preventing funds from being used to implement any rule that would allow poultry raised or slaughtered in China to be exported to the United States.

If you haven’t signed and shared our Change.org petition, please take a moment to add your signature. Every name that’s added puts pressure on our legislators to put the health and safety of America’s children ahead of the interests of food manufacturers. Thank you.

© Food Safety News
  • Dawn2454

    This is absolutely crazy to have our meat shipped back and forth like that how can it possibly be safe for consumption

    • Robert Grillo

      It is crazy and wrong. But the meat is not “ours.” Meat is the flesh of a highly sentient animal that had thoughts and feelings. It belongs to the individual whose body it was. The shipping of live animals adds insult to injury to these individuals trapped inside of our food system by no choice of their own. They already endure horrific cruelty here. For details, see http://freefromharm.org/farm-animal-welfare/from-poultry-farm-to-plate-the-need-for-legislation-to-protect-chickens-and-turkeys/

      • Suzanne

        Another reason it’s so easy for me to be vegan. Still, knowing live animals are being shipped through the mail is very disturbing. It’s hard for me to fathom anyone supporting this.

        • Jason Anderson

          I cannot believe that my poor MN corn is being shipped outstate. Oh, the humanity!!

      • Acensustaker

        If you don’t want to eat meat, don’t eat meat. Let alone the others of us that do.

      • Shiela

        And whats your take about Human beings, allowed to be slaughtered inside the Mothers wombs daily? Last count since its legalization is 45 MILLION.

        • Justus

          That was odd and uncalled for in my opinion. Why bother bringing abortion into a topic about our food safety? Anyway, I keep learning new and disturbing things about America’s food and it is quite unsettling.

  • Marco Polo

    This is just appalling and disgusting! With all the Chinese food horrors that have sickened our babies and pets due to their “adulteration” should be enough to put a ban to shipping out ALL U.S. food to China for processing. So happy I don’t eat any fish yet I do prefer chicken over beef. No wonder many people who do like flesh foods have now removed them from their diet.

    Thanks for the reminder about signing the petition.

  • CRS

    Horrific and scandalous. But surprising? No. This is America, it’s all about corporate profits. Whether it’s food safety for Americans or grossly underpaid Chinese workers, none of that matters. What matters is fattening up the already obese pockets of our nation’s CEOs.

  • Oginikwe

    It’s not just food, it’s also vitamins, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices.
    The Chinavore’s Dilemma (Mother Jones) Sept./Oct. 2008: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/08/chinavores-dilemma

    You Don’t Know Where Your Drugs Come From And Neither Does The FDA; U.S. Imports 90 Percent Of Its Antibiotics (And Vitamin A) From China (Manufacturing & Technology
    News) 5/18/2010: http://www.manufacturingnews.com/news/10/0518/chinadrugs.html

    It appears to me that another reason shipping chicken to China was so China would open its markets to American beef:
    China May Approve US Beef, Following Chicken Deal: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/417212-china-may-approve-us-beef-following-chicken-deal/

    More on China’s food problems:

    Director-General of FAO Expresses Worry About Food Safety and Pollution in China (FSN) 6/12/2013: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/06/director-general-of-fao-expresses-worry-about-food-safety-and-pollution-in-china/

    ‘Organic’ From China Exposed: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/260264-organic-from-china-exposed/?photo=2

    Meat Injected With Dirty Pond Water In South China, State TV Says : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/06/meat-pond-water-china_n_4547132.html?utm_hp_ref=food&ir=Food

    Making a killing on food: https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/4195-Making-a-killing-on-food

    Chinese Official: Soil Pollution Hurts Farming:
    http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/chinese-official-soil-pollution-hurts-farming-21365375

    China Admits Existence Of ‘Cancer Villages’ In Report, As Pollution Concerns Mount (Huff Po) 2/23/2013: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/23/china-cancer-villages-pollution_n_2744879.html?utm_hp_ref=green&ir=Green

    From the Department of “Ironic, ain’t it?”:
    China Bans Shellfish From U.S. West Coast for Arsenic and Toxin Levels : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/12/china-bans-shellfish-from-us-west-coast/

    China Rejects GMO Corn In Distillers Grains From U.S.; More Rejections Expected: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/26/china-rejects-gmo-corn_n_4502719.html?utm_hp_ref=food&ir=Food

  • doc raymond

    This process for chicken was USDA approved in 2006. No chicken has crossed that ocean since. Just typical inflammatory reporting meant to mislead. And they are “appalled” that no US inspectors are in the plant? No US inspectors in any plants that export meat and poultry from the 34 countries approved to do so. Nor do any of the countries we export to have their inspectors in our plants.

  • doc raymond

    China has been importing American Beef thru Macaw and other ports for a long time. Just look at the import numbers and ask how can Macaw and Hong Kong possibly eat that much American beef. And why did you not state clearly that this practice for exporting processed cooked chicken meat to the US was approved by the USDA in 2006 yet none has crossed the ocean. These are facts. Not innuendos or inflammatory comments. Please, if you want to be engaged in a food safety conversation, put all the facts on the table.

    • Nancy Huehnergarth

      Dr. Raymond,

      China currently prohibits the import of American beef. I don’t doubt that American beef may be imported illegally into China but that has no bearing on this discussion.

      Yes, exporting processed U.S. chicken meat from China was approved by USDA in 2006 when you were Undersecretary for Food Safety at USDA, Dr. Raymond. The reason no processed U.S. chicken meat has yet crossed the ocean is because it wasn’t until August 2013 that the USDA approved four Chinese processing facilities for processing of U.S. (as well as Canadian and Chilean) chicken to be imported back into the U.S. for human consumption.

      As our op ed indicates, we believe that it is economically feasible to process U.S. chicken in China and ship it back to the U.S. Now that four plants have been approved in China for this processing, it’s only a matter of time before that happens. According to sources, a large U.S. soup manufacturer may soon be the first to send U.S. chicken to China for processing and return to the U.S.

      I get the distinct impression that you do not believe consumer advocates have a right to enter into food safety conversations. Let me ask you a question, Dr. Raymond. Do you believe that the Chinese food safety system is robust enough to warrant U.S. import of Chinese grown and processed food items? In particular, I’d like to hear your expert opinion on: 1) importing Chinese-raised and slaughtered chickens 2) importing any foods processed in Chinese facilities (which are not overseen by USDA inspectors on a regular basis).

  • Kathy Heinisch

    Trident Seafoods..The website is misleading..”operating offshore processors and shore-side plants throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

    We are proud to offer you our finest seafood products, “From the Source to the Plate®.”*They kinda skipped right over the fact that before it gets to your plate some takes a detour to China…

  • Oginikwe

    :^)

    If you liked those, here’s the latest on China’s continuing to incubate emerging avian flu strains:

    No End In Sight To China’s Food Safety Woes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2014/02/05/no-end-in-sight-to-chinas-food-safety-woes/

    At the rate they’re killing chickens over there, they might get chicken from here and just decide to keep it.

  • Oginikwe

    Thank you for that link to your article. :)

    Initially, when chicken processed in China was given the green light, we were told that the chickens would come from the U.S. and Canada and not be from China. Slowly that narrative has been changing. It is deeply concerning because of China’s food record and even as we try to get antibiotics out of our food animals, China is increasing it use of them. Many of us would prefer that we grow and process our own food in this country. If it ever gets out which American soup company is buying Chinese-processed chicken for their soups, they can kiss their market share good-bye. We raise our own so we have no dog in this fight except for our concerns for our friends and loved ones.

    Half of China’s Antibiotics Now Go to Livestock 9/10/2013: http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/09/chinas-antibiotic-meat-livestock

  • Salley is pissed

    I don’t eat any food that I can’t read the place were it originated from. The Commie Chinese hate us/U.S.. They hate all Americans as well the Russians Communists, have much hate for us/U.S.
    DO NOT PURCHASE OR CONSUME ANY FOOD STUFFS FROM CHINA!!!!
    Best Regards, and for that matter California either!

    • fifthdentist

      The effort to have country-of-origin labeling on food here has been going on for at least two decades. Big food doesn’t want it, so it hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to happen unless you’re in a state progressive enough to require it.
      And even then the food companies likely would take a state’s requirement to court to block it and win.

  • Robert Grillo

    By choosing to consume animals we have no biological need to eat, such as fish and chicken, we teach our children to consume the products of the most exploited animals on the planet, products of abject misery and violence to baby birds, only six weeks of age when they are sent to slaughter. Their lives are miserable enough as it is, but the sea voyages to and from China just add insult to injury. A better campaign / petition would be to build awareness about the injustice and cruelty involved in the poultry and commercial fishing industries and educate children and people in general about the alternatives available to us. There are no humane alternative to eating animal products. Just hollow marketing myths. For more details, see Factory Farming vs. Alternative Farming: The Humane Hoax athttp://freefromharm.org/animal-products-and-ethics/factory-farming-alternative-farming/#sthash.RIclvedX.dpuf.

  • Givingmytwo Cents

    Our country is overrun by greedy executives who have cushy jobs that earn them big money at the expense of hard working Americans. These executives are only thinking of money today and not cost to the future of America. Why is the United States government trusting China. The United States was the leader in the industrialized world but if jobs go to China how is our future generation going to know how to make anything. China only knows how to copy. They don’t invent!! We can’t be only consumers. Our fellow American are out of work because there are no jobs!!! They can’t even feed their children who are the future of this country. Yeah save 80 cents now but its going to cost us the future of our country.

    • Budd Smith

      The real problem is that our politicians are paid off by the greedy executives. Our Federal govt protects their interests, not ours.

  • fabioinfante04@gmail.com

    ya empezaron para general el mayor desempleo que se vera en estados unidos, ya que los grandes solo piensan en ganancias y no en el bienestar del pueblo.

  • Budd Smith

    We import steel from China. The raw materials are shipped from the US to China, then shipped back after processing. How shipping steel literally around the world is cheaper than processing it here is baffling. No doubt our traitorous Federal govt. has made the manufacture of steel in the US unprofitable. Now our food supply will be poisoned by the Chinese.

  • http://foundups.com/ FOUNDUPS® Michael J Trout, CEO

    ROTFL… I am SO glad I left the US in 2004! This is beyond sanity and shows how utterly FCUKED America is… Change my ass… some of the same crap being dished out to American consumers. Did Bush kill Obama and possessed his body? I can’t stop laughing!

  • April

    Keep Americans working…really..14,000 miles and then they want us to spend our money on their product..These CEOs should be ashamed to call themself Americans. Life is about the greater good for the most people and jobs in America is the greater good…you can’t take your money to the grave and (you will die) we are all guaranteed that. So WAKE up and get off the greedy express and employ Americans…. America buy American and start using your local growers, farmers and fishermen. Don’t touch GREED since they don’t want to touch us!!!

  • Dakota Kemp

    This is bullcrap over 600 animals have died from Chinese animal treats containing chicken and 1000s more have been sickened because of Chinese processed chicken and they wish to sicken and kill us. This is the reason that if I don’t know where food is from or it’s from China, I won’t eat it. I will starve before I eat food from China. Shame on the USDA and it is true most seafood is from china

  • D.S.

    DISGUSTING…REALLY. AND SHAMEFUL. SO SAD, SO VERY, VERY, SAD.

  • SnapDragon

    Date? How about an actual date when this goes into effect?

  • american1st/repeblican 2nd

    The best/logical thing to do is NOT consume ANY product that does not include processing information. If they say it is produced and processed in USA then they are legally liable if it is proven contrary…

  • Mark Diodati

    the greatest country in the world you say. I think not. We cannot do anything anymore

  • Mark Diodati

    the greatest country in the world you say. I think not. We cannot do anything anymore

  • john smith

    The best/logical thing to do is NOT consume ANY product that does not include processing information. If they say it is produced and processed in USA then they are legally liable if it is proven contrary…