USDA Bends Over Backwards to Appease China, Putting Public Health in the Balance
Statement from Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch
Washington, D.C. — “For several years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s trade promotion arm, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), has been working with China to allow the country to export its poultry products to the United States despite China’s deep-rooted health and safety problems and woefully inadequate food safety laws and regulations.
“Since 2005, Food & Water Watch has criticized these negotiations for prioritizing trade over the public’s health. We have monitored the situation closely and became particularly alarmed earlier this year when we learned that FAS was exerting undue influence over the food safety review process. This is why Food & Water Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request on January 5. While we have received regular apologies from FAS, we have yet to receive one document from them about the imports of food products from China.
“However, because Congress requires the USDA to provide periodic updates on the status of poultry imports from China, Food & Water Watch was able to obtain a letter from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Chinese chicken’s equivalence process. In the letter, Secretary Vilsack outlines a recent trade mission to China and gives his ‘personal commitment’ to work closely with Chinese officials to allow processed, or cooked, chicken products to be sold as ‘equivalent’ to U.S. chicken products, and to pave the way for China to be added to the list of countries eligible to export slaughtered, or raw, poultry into the U.S. as well. Chicken from a U.S.-approved country that has been processed in China does not have to be labeled as such.
“Consumers deserve to know what FAS is up to when the agency’s actions directly impacts the safety of their food supply. Chicken is the most popular meat in the U.S. and is already threatened by arsenic and other contaminants, as well as the threat of under-trained, over-worked company employees replacing professionally trained federal inspectors. The USDA should focus its efforts on making the chicken produced here in the U.S. safer and not spend its limited resources trying to bring Chinese chicken into our food supply.”
A copy of Secretary Vilsack’s letter to Congress can be downloaded here.
Food & Water Watch’s pending petition with the USDA on this issue can be downloaded here.
Contact: Anna Ghosh, 415-293-9905, aghosh(at)fwwatch(dot)org