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January 19th, 2011

USDA Records Reveal Political Pressure to Allow Chinese Chicken Imports

Food & Water Watch submits petition to remove China from list of eligible exporters of poultry products

Washington, D.C. – Food & Water Watch today submitted a Citizen Petition asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to remove the People’s Republic of China from the list of countries eligible to export processed poultry products to the United States.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Food & Water Watch has found that the USDA’s process for approving a rule that would grant China permission to export processed poultry products to the United States has been flawed and serious mistakes were made due to pressure on the agency to allow the imports to begin as soon as possible.

“In the long running saga of whether or not the U.S. should allow poultry processed in China to enter the United States, we now have evidence of instances where the USDA broke its own rules,” said Food & Water Watch’s Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “USDA needs to do a thorough evaluation of whether this is a country that can safely produce processed poultry products for the U.S. market. They shouldn’t rush through the process for political reasons.”

Food & Water Watch has been fighting for more careful scrutiny of proposed Chinese poultry exports to the U.S. since 2005. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed with FSIS, the consumer advocacy non-profit has uncovered several flaws in the process to include China on the list of approved importers. Some of the most troubling findings include:

  • In its haste to get a final rule announced in time for a visit to the United States by the Chinese President in 2006, USDA missed required steps in the approval process and failed to send the rule to the USDA Office of Civil Rights for review;
  • USDA staff made incorrect public statements that consumers would be able to avoid Chinese poultry imports, despite the fact that country of origin labeling requirements would not apply to processed poultry products;
  • Pressure on the USDA to approve the rule was based in part on U.S. efforts to reopen the U.S. beef trade with China, which was banned after mad cow disease was discovered in a cow in Washington State in 2003;
  • FSIS provided different sets of data for the potential economic impact of processed poultry imports from China on the domestic poultry industry.

“China’s food safety system is virtually non-existent,” said Hauter. “The USDA’s first responsibility is to protect U.S. consumers from unnecessary food safety risks – not rush through the process to help trade negotiators open the Chinese market to U.S. beef.”

Download the Citizen Petition, which includes details of Food & Water Watch’s FOIA findings and a history of the FSIS rule to add the People’s Republic of China to the list of countries eligible to export processed poultry products..

CONTACT: Anna Ghosh, aghosh(at)fwwatch, 415-293-9905

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.