American consumers need USDA “on station” to inspect chicken processing as it occurs in China, and a “labeling gap” is putting U.S. food safety at risk, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) suggests in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Brown also raised numerous questions with Vilsack about Chinese chicken processors being approved to process chicken raised in the U.S., Canada or Chile and then export the cooked chicken back here. Since the news leaked (just before USDA announced it on Aug. 30) that four Chinese chicken processors are being green-lighted for exporting cooked chicken to the U.S., it’s become one of this nation’s hotter discussion topics. “Given the well-documented shortcomings of the Chinese food safety system, we shouldn’t allow unmarked meat into our markets that is processed in Chinese facilities that are not subject to food safety inspections,” Brown stated in a press release accompanying his letter to Vilsack. “This action could endanger the health and safety of American consumers and potentially undermines confidence in our nation’s food safety standards.” Meat and poultry imported to the U.S. is subject to inspection by the foreign country, which must maintain a food-safety inspection system that is equivalent to USDA’s. “Equivalence” was originally established in 2006 for the People’s Republic of China’s food-safety inspection system for processed poultry after a two-year review by a USDA audit team. At that time, however, no imports of Chinese chicken were allowed. The difference with the latest review is that it opens the door to U.S. imports of processed (cooked) chicken from China, but the poultry could not be raised or slaughtered in China nor would any raw chicken imports be allowed. It means that China would be allowed to process poultry from the U.S., Canada or Chile, which could then be exported as cooked product back to the U.S. Brown last waded into food safety when one of his constituents lost a puppy to contaminated chicken jerky made in China. Here’s his list of questions for Vilsack:

  • When will the first Chinese-processed poultry shipments reach U.S. ports of entry?
  • Is it true that poultry processed in China would be labeled upon reaching our shores and possibly subject to re-inspection, but regulatory exemptions for processed poultry and meats allow labeling to be removed before these products are purchased by American consumers? If so, how might the labeling gap be remedied by USDA?
  • What additional regulatory or labeling steps might USDA take to ensure that American consumers are given all currently available information regarding supply chain safety and country of origin of their meat products (processed and unprocessed)?
  • Has USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service requested that it be able to station its inspectors in Chinese poultry facilities when products destined for export to the U.S. are processed? If not, why not?
  • Will there be intensified port-of-entry inspection of products imported from China under the provisions of the Aug. 30, 2013, FSIS announcement? If so, please identify those measures and the agency responsible for implementation.
  • Is USDA or FSIS also currently working toward approving the shipment of Chinese-origin poultry and other meats (processed or unprocessed) to the U.S.? If so, what is the status of that effort?
  • What, if any, further regulatory or administrative steps are required before the FSIS decision on processing poultry in China is fully implemented?
  • Which U.S, Canadian or Chilean poultry slaughter facilities have been identified by USDA that will ship raw poultry to China for further processing?

Brown is not the only lawmaker attempting to shake USDA’s tree after it opened the door to importing Chinese-processed chicken. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) says that Chinese food-safety regulations are “terrible.” She says there is no way USDA can keep chickens raised and slaughtered in China from being processed for export, and she fears the country’s use of illegal antibiotics and its ongoing problems with various strains of bird flu. Food Safety News will publish Vilsack’s responses when they become available.

  • Carlo Silvestr

    Well said. The Chinese industry and government need to prove that their systems are safe and that they produce safe food — no more exploding watermelons, melamine laced dairy products, hogs floating in the river and, need I go on? I, for one, avoid Chinese made or imported product when I can, if I know it’s from China.

  • Marj

    I fine it beyond belief that we have a trade system that makes slaughtering and freezing raw chickens in the US and shipping them to China to be processed into a foodlike substance, probably frozen, to be shipped back to the US. Someone needs to slap a big fat carbon tax on that caper.

  • ValerieNoyes

    This is disgraceful. The Chinese have been sickening & killing dogs for years with their jerky and now want to kill humans too. The government should never allow this. ALL chicken that has ever touched Chinese shores should be banned. I make homemade jerky for my dogs and will never purchase any chicken from China. Its so outrageous I will boycott any store carrying it.

    • vfj

      I feel the same way. I make the chicken for my dogs also, but a few weeks ago I was in Petsmart and purchased jerky that I thought was made in USA by Dogswell. I came home and researched it and it was being recalled. Turns out they made it here with chicken from China. So now even with the dog food, I have researched where the ingredients come from. It is terrible that we have to check everything we eat or feed our animals.

  • Barb3000

    I found out the other day that a supermarket chain that I shop at weekly is selling frozen cat fish from china. I have always bought the fish from this store because it is raised in ponds in the southern US states. These businesses are inspected and clean not how the pond fish is raised in China. I told the clerk I didn’t want any fish from China and she had a case of US raised fish in the freezer. I told her the reason I won’t buy it and she agreed with me. On the case she pointed out a US stamp that has to be on the box. What is this about the Chinese stamps being removed from the chicken? Somebody is getting a kickback from this, it could be a lot of somebodies. China ships millions of tons of pond raised fish to the US yearly with only 4% inspected. That’s nuts.

  • Sheila

    Consumers have the absolute right to know which companies are exporting processed chicken from China. I do not care if the chickens were raised in the US or Canada. If our hits China soil, I want nothing to do with it. I will not even feed it to my pets – even if it was free. These producers are keeping this a huge secret as I do not know of anyone who will willingly purchase chicken processed in China.

  • Concerned Citizen

    USDA has a Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulation. The COOL law requires that labeling be provided on consumer products as to where the item was raised/produced. The law does not require such labeling on further processed items such as chicken nuggets processed in China. The Senator could amend the COOL regulation to provide origin labeling on processed items thereby labeling the China made products. This of course wont help when buying chicken products from restaurants unless they choose to broadcast the location their products originate from. However the consumer buying items for home consumption would be able to make their own decisions.

  • Brenda

    If I cannot be sure I am avoiding a Chinese product, I’ll go vegan or vegetarian if I have to do so. Thank you, Sen. Brown, for having our best interests at heart. Wish the politicians from my state of residence were like you.

  • Art

    United Slaves of America I guess because the US owes them billions of dollars the american people have been lobbied into eating Chinese slop. God bless America and politics.