This follows research by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), a regulatory agency under the department, into China’s poultry-slaughter system.
“USDA has not found China's poultry slaughter system to be equivalent, and therefore poultry slaughtered in China is not allowed to be imported to the United States,” said a statement from the USDA.
“The US food supply is among the safest in the world, and the Food Safety Inspection Service is dedicated to maintaining that status,” it added.
‘Dramatic and immediate measures’
The statement came after US senator Charles E. Schumer in September called for the USDA to take dramatic and immediate measures to ensure the safety of chickens processed in China and sold in the United States.
Schumer was pointing to an earlier USDA announcement that ended the ban on processed chicken imports from China and approved four Chinese chicken processing plants for sale back to the US market. The four plants are only allowed to process birds raised and slaughtered in the US, Canada or Chile.
He said that while the plants and processing methods have been deemed initially safe by the USDA, lax enforcement could expose US consumers to a serious risk of food-borne illness, especially given the appallingly poor food-safety track record of Chinese food products.
“Based on prior outbreaks and a pattern of violations, we know that there are real risks from eating meat raised in China, and we have to be vigilant to ensure that unscrupulous processors in China are not trying to take shortcuts while processing chicken from the U.S., and are not trying to substitute cheaper and less safe Chinese fowl,” said Schumer.
According to the USDA, China had in December 2010 asked the FSIS to evaluate its poultry slaughter system. FSIS has is yet to finalise and release the results of this audit.
But if the audit reveals food safety issues with China's poultry slaughter system, then China will then be required to take corrective actions and then be audited again in order for the process to continue.