Last week, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service approved certain Chinese chicken processing facilities to export product to the United States. Their audit says that China’s processed poultry inspection system safety system is equivalent to the U.S. system. The report states that “the Central Competent Authority (CCA) has adequately addressed all previously identified concerns. Therefore, the People’s Republic of China’s processed poultry inspection system meets the equivalence components for FSIS equivalence criteria.”
The People’s Republic of China can now certify a list of establishments that are eligible to export heat treated and cooked poultry products to the U.S. The caveat is that this will be allowed as long as raw poultry is sourced from countries that FSIS has determined to have a poultry slaughter inspection system equivalent to the U.S. system, since China’s does not at this time. An audit to determined if China can export its own chicken to the U.S. is underway and will be completed soon.
Food and Water Watch has released a statement from Wenonah Hauter, their Executive Director, about this decision. She said, “it’s common practice for government agencies to release information they hope to sneak past consumers on Friday afternoons before a holiday weekend.”
Hauter says that her agency objects to several loopholes in the audit report. First, there will be no USDA inspector in the Chinese poultry processing facilities to verify that the poultry is coming only from “approved sources”. In other words, there is no way to check if the Chinese facilities are importing raw poultry or using their own.
Second, Hauter states that the Chinese food safety system is still riddled with serious deficiencies. For instance, in July, a factory in Kunming was using pond water used for washing feet to make rice vermicelli. And an investigation in July revealed that ice served at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in China had 13 times more bacteria than toilet water. The Council on Foreign Relations says that China doesn’t systematically sample its food products for safety and regulation, and the country’s system has fewer and lower food safety standards than the rest of the world.
Finally, because the poultry is processed, Hauter says there will be no label on the finished product telling consumers that the meat is imported from China. No Country of Origin labeling required.
Food & Water Watch is also concerned about the bird flu, which has been a huge problem in China. Hauter concludes, “today’s audit report reveals yet again that USDA is willing to allow trade to trump food safety.”