Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Friday asking him for details on the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)’s new interim rule to loosen restrictions on poultry imports from countries, like China, that have faced avian influenza in the past. DeLauro is concerned
DeLauro’s office said the interim rule “represents a significant step towards importing poultry products from China into the United States,” which has been essentially banned since 2004.

Initially the ban was put in place over avian flu fears, but an Agriculture Appropriations bill, authored by the congresswoman, has kept the ban in place by not allowing any funding for USDA to go forward on a rule to allow the poultry. The World Trade Organization ruled in September that the ban was illegal around the same time U.S. lawmakers had worked out a compromise on appropriations language that would allow USDA funds to promulgate or implement a rule allowing the imports of Chinese poultry, but only after meeting certain conditions.

In her letter to Vilsack, DeLauro said she’s concerned APHIS’ interim rule could be too lax.

“While APHIS claims that this rule would prevent H5N1 from being introduced in the U.S.,” writes DeLauro. “I am concerned that this rule actually would ease APHIS prohibition on any poultry products coming in from countries that have had H5N1 outbreaks.”

Instead of banning most poultry products from countries where Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 is considered present, the interim rule would allow for certain countries to export to the U.S. as long as the poultry is thoroughly cooked. (The rule calls for 165 degrees, processed in only eligible facilities.)

DeLauro asked Vilsack a number of questions. She wants to know what science the department is using to back up the new policy, how much staffing will be required to monitor poultry temperature at processing plants in China, and whether the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) might be better suited for the job.