Mixed reaction to Chinese cooked chicken import plans

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/YelenaYemchuk
©iStock/YelenaYemchuk
Plans to allow China to export cooked chicken from poultry slaughtered in the country to the US have prompted strong reactions from both sides of the debate.

The proposed rule​ by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) would allow China to export to the US processed cooked poultry from birds slaughtered in certified establishments.

The agency said China’s laws, regulations and poultry slaughter inspection system are equivalent to the US under the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).

China is eligible to export processed poultry to the US if products are from poultry slaughtered in the US or in other countries eligible to slaughter and export poultry to the US.

NCC, NRF and USAPEEC as well as NPPC and NAMI supported the plans while Food & Water Watch, the Consumer Federation of America and CFI were among associations that urged the move to be abandoned.

Trade is a two-way street

The National Chicken Council (NCC), National Turkey Federation (NTF) and USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) submitted joint comments in support of the move.

The US accounts for 20% of the world’s production of poultry meat with China in second with 17%.

Certified establishments

China intends to certify five slaughter establishments: three to export cooked chicken quarter-legs and chicken breasts, one cooked duck legs and duck breasts and one roasted boneless duck.

“If FSIS has determined after 13 years of careful consideration that these products from China are safe, we accept that judgment,” ​said the groups.

“The suggestion that FSIS has not done its job with respect to its risk analysis of Chinese processed cooked poultry products is not only unsupported by any scientific or factual evidence; it also damages the reputation of our national food safety inspection system…

“Unfortunately, FSIS has at times received criticisms that its proposals to permit China to export to the US market do not adequately protect the safety of US consumers. Those criticisms are not, in our view, based on any scientific evidence or risk assessment; they are often political rhetoric, and typically advance stereotypical characterizations, not scientific fact.”

China deal Rawpixel
©iStock/Rawpixel

Osi Group said it has invested over $1bn in food technology, supply chain, quality control, manufacturing and food safety in China over the past 25 years.

OSI Group (Weihai) Poultry Development Company intends to apply to Chinese regulatory officials for certification to export to the US cooked poultry slaughtered in China.

“Adopting this regulatory change is consistent with FSIS’ obligations under the PPIA, WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement, and the objective findings contained in FSIS’ audit of the PRC food safety system.”

Should the rule become final, the Chinese government must certify sites that wish to export slaughtered poultry are operating in accordance with requirements equivalent to those of the US.

FSIS will check this through annual scheduled audits of the poultry inspection system.

Chinese system ‘too weak’ to ensure safe exports

However, Food & Water Watch urged the USDA to cancel the proposal describing China’s food safety system as ‘too weak’ to ensure poultry exports are safe to eat. 

The organization also passed on a petition signed by more than 16,000 people.

“While USDA claims that PRC’s food safety inspection system is equivalent to ours, the country’s own public health officials admit that PRC’s food safety system is flawed, with weak enforcement. 

“Ultimately, processed poultry from the PRC will not be subject to country of origin labeling requirements, leaving consumers completely in the dark about what they are buying and feeding to their families.”

Food & Water Watch said the FDA has issued the highest number of Import Alerts against products from the PRC of any country exporting products regulated by it to the US.

The US and China reached a deal where China lifted a ban on imports of US beef earlier this year.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) urged USDA-FSIS to abandon the plan and rescind earlier eligibility determination allowing exports of cooked chicken products from China made from raw chicken sourced in other countries.

“Despite the agency’s claims to the contrary, [China] demanding access to the US for Chinese chicken in exchange for reopening its markets to US beef imports, has exerted an inappropriate influence on this rulemaking process.

“China continues to experience high-profile food safety problems, and the country’s food safety system is in a state of flux.”

The Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention (CFI) said it opposes import of Chinese chicken because of a questionable food safety record and lack of rigorous on-farm management practices.

“China has been involved in a variety of serious food safety events, including melamine in baby formula, toxins in pet treats, adulteration of rat meat to sell as lamb, smuggling of decades-old frozen meat, use of recycled and/or discarded cooking oil at restaurants, tainted meats being sold at fast food chains, and most recently, the production of sauces by combining recycled spices and rock salt, an ingredient that is potentially harmful to human health.

“The equivalency decision for processed Chines chicken products is based on a small subset of poultry producers, so that decision is not representative of all Chinese poultry producers.

USDA already faces challenges in keeping pace with inspections of foreign-produced meat and poultry products. Faced with constrained resources, USDA will most likely not have the ability to audit and/or inspect Chinese poultry processing establishments at the frequency needed to ensure the safety of the Chinese products.”

trade export Creditwissanu01
©iStock/wissanu01

Consumers Union said it was opposed to the plan but if FSIS did allow import of Chinese chicken, it should impose accountability measures, including frequent inspections at production, slaughter and processing facilities and testing of 100% of imports for illegal contaminants and mcr-1 as indicators of the effectiveness of enforcement.

Pork and meat industry support

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said it supports the rule.

“NPPC understands that the Chinese inspection system and its poultry processing facilities will be monitored by FSIS and that product regularly will be inspected under the same rigorous metrics and standards USDA uses in the US,” ​the council said on behalf of its 43 affiliated state pork associations.

“Additionally, NPPC suggests that the rule require shipments of PRC poultry to be inspected at US ports of entry before being released into the marketplace, just as US meat and poultry exports to China now are subject to inspections at that country’s ports of entry.”

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) also supported the rule because it is based on a scientific analysis of the laws, regulations and poultry slaughter inspection system of China.

“NAMI has long supported import and export requirements based on sound science. For the US to argue against imposing artificial trade barriers when dealing with its trading partners the US must demonstrate its willingness lead by example.

“Adopting the proposal as a final rule allows the agency to meet its obligations under the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement.”

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