A dispute with China over poultry import safety was likely diffused last week after House-Senate conferees reached a deal on Agriculture appropriations language.

Lawmakers came to an agreement that would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use appropriated funds in Fiscal Year 2010 to promulgate or implement a rule allowing imports of processed poultry or poultry products from China only after the Secretary of Agriculture notifies Congress that certain conditions have been met.

Existing appropriations restrictions limited USDA’s ability to consider an import rule for Chinese poultry products, which effectively kept the products out of the American marketplace. China responded by pursuing action through the World Trade Organization claiming that the U.S. was unfairly blocking poultry imports.

USDA worked with Representative DeLauro (D-CT), chair of the Agricultural Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to craft the language, which according to the Department “ensures the protection of the nation’s food supply in a manner consistent with scientific principles required under U.S. international obligations.”

“From the very beginning I have insisted that the questions of processed Chinese poultry imports be taken as a public health issue that must not be entangled in trade discussions,” said DeLauro.

DeLauro lauded the agreement, noting that the report language “provides meaningful assurance that the public health will be protected” by ensuring that poultry products from China are safe.

“The final conference language would firmly establish that Chinese poultry imports must live up to American sanitary conditions before being shipped to the United States,” said DeLauro.

“We commend the conferees for reaching an agreement that protects food safety and public health in a manner consistent with our international obligations,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “The agreement reached by the conferees will maintain the safety of our food supply and ensure that America takes a leadership role in supporting a science and rules-based trading system.”

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk also commended the deal. “We are pleased that the conferees were able to reach agreement on language that provides a strong means to address food safety concerns while recognizing the need to base health measures on scientific principles,” said Ambassador Kirk.

Under current U.S. law, poultry and poultry products may not be imported from any foreign country unless USDA determines that the food safety standards and sanitary conditions of that country are considered equivalent to U.S. standards and conditions.