In spite of a massive bird flu outbreak, the USDA has approved import of poultry products from South Korea. The final rule grants equivalency status to the Republic of Korea. It becomes effective May 27, 2014.
It reads “slaughtered poultry or parts or other products thereof processed in certified Korean establishments will be eligible for export to the United States. All such products will be subject to re-inspection at United States ports of entry by FSIS inspectors.”
The bird flu in outbreak in Korea, which was discovered January 2014, has led to the culling of 11 million birds nationwide. Food safety and consumer groups are opposed to this new USDA rule for this reason and for many others.
Food and Water Water issued a press release about this matter. They filed comments opposed to the rule when it was proposed in January 2013. Their comments cited violations of U.S. food safety and inspection standards that were observed by FSIS auditors when they visited Korean poultry slaughter and processing facilities in 2008 and 2010.
Those violations included inspections performed by company employees with no government oversight, failure to implement and verify sanitation programs, and failure to implement and verify HACCP requirements. In addition, they found that the Korean food safety authority didn’t provide adequate control for post-mortem inspection, didn’t provide adequate control over implementation of laboratory quality systems in its residue program, and didn’t provide adequate controls over laboratory control quality systems for its microbiological testing program. In addition, FSIS staff was not allowed to visit Korean government labs that conduct the chemical and microbiological analysis of poultry products.
And unfortunately, if the chickens imported from Korea are processed at all in this country, no country of origin label needs to be applied to the finished product. Like the recent approval of importation of poultry processed in China, which also suffers from poor food safety control measures and massive bird flu outbreaks, we have to ask what is going on?
The bird flu outbreaks are also worrying. Recent reports found the illness is crossing species and sickening dogs.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch said in a statment, “we find the decision by FSIS to be irresponsible and surmise that it is trade related. This final rule may be a little goodie that the U.S. is using to entice South Korea to join Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks. Once again, it may be another instance of the Obama administration allowing trade to trump food safety.”