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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

White House Sells Out Public Health for Chinese Poultry Profits

Food Integrity Campaign | October 13, 2017

The Trump Administration has put the wellbeing of our children at risk. A bilateral trade deal between China and the United States formalized in May permits China to sell cooked poultry—mainly chicken and duck—to the United States. In return, the US beef industry is allowed access to China’s $2.5 billion market. The first delivery of chicken arrived in the country in late June.

Trade enthusiasts are hailing the deal as a success story for expanded business opportunities. Food safety watchdogs, by contrast, are rightly outraged by the agreement, and argue that China’s abysmal safety standards jeopardize the US public, especially children and the elderly.

In 2006, the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) granted China “equivalency,” a requirement for countries wishing to export meat, poultry, and eggs to the United States. In theory, when a country is given such a status, it means that its industry has been thoroughly vetted by the USDA to ensure food safety standards match those in the United States.

In reality, the process is too susceptible to political influence, particularly pro-trade White House officials all too willing to bypass food safety risks for profitable trade deals. According to The Washington Post, China’s own highest-ranking food safety official acknowledged that “deep-seated problems” remain in the food system.

That’s an accurate claim. Roughly 500,000 food safety violations were recorded in the first nine months of 2016. Approximately 40 percent of Chinese facilities failed the state’s own auditing process. Moreover, certain poultry processing plants in China have line speeds operating at an outrageous 225 birds per minute. By law, poultry line speeds in the United States cannot exceed 140 birds per minute. This not only poses concerns about food safety, but also about the rights of line workers who are subjected to inhumane, backbreaking environments. Approving the trade deal therefore exacerbates China’s unacceptable disregard for human rights.

Importantly, because imported Chinese chicken falls under the “processed food” category, it is exempt from country-of-origin labeling laws, meaning Americans will be left in the dark when trying to determine where the chicken they are eating was processed. Chicken nuggets, enjoyed mostly by children nationwide, could soon come from China, if they aren’t already.

Some lawmakers are pushing back against the trade deal by raising awareness and passing legislation to keep our children safe. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) recently introduced the Safe Chicken and Meat for Children Act, which would prohibit imported Chinese chicken from being used in the National School Lunch Program. She has also been an advocate for an overhaul of the FSIS equivalency determination process, demanding more accountability and transparency.

“These issues shouldn’t fly under the radar,” DeLauro said on Capitol Hill in mid-October. “We should be screaming from the rooftops.” The Food Integrity Campaign intends to work to amplify the message about the dangers of Chinese chicken imports to the public.