Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter
Washington, D.C.—“The Trump administration’s new initiatives to increase trade with China include a plan to finalize a long-stalled effort to allow China to export processed poultry products to the U.S. Food & Water Watch denounces this move, as it will put U.S. consumers at risk for illnesses from potentially unsafe food imports.
“This plan has stalled for years due to China’s long history of food safety problems and the dramatic differences between U.S. and Chinese food safety inspection systems. Under the deal, products exported to the U.S. from Chinese processing plants would be inspected by the Chinese government, which has struggled to create a regulatory system that protects public health. As recently as December 2016, the head of China’s Food and Drug Administration reported that there were ‘deep-seated’ problems with the country’s food safety system.
“China has been pressing the U.S. to allow poultry imports for years and openly made the reopening of the Chinese market to U.S. beef a quid pro quo. In 2006, USDA adopted a rule that granted China equivalency status to export processed poultry products to the U.S. provided that the raw poultry came from ‘approved sources.’ At that time, the only ‘approved sources’ were the U.S. and Canada. To date, no poultry products under the restrictions of the 2006 rule have been imported.
“Since 2006, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has conducted several additional audits that found problems with the Chinese poultry inspection system. Added to that is a recent study that revealed that there is rampant contamination of Chinese poultry with drug resistant bacteria. There have also been numerous outbreaks of avian influenza in China since 2013. The strains have been so potent that, according to the World Health Organization, they have caused 1,347 human illnesses, including some deaths.
“What makes the Trump Administration’s announcement even more hypocritical is that Cargill – the U.S. based agribusiness giant – operates poultry processing facilities in China. China had already telegraphed to USDA that if poultry products of Chinese origin were permitted to be exported to the U.S., two of Cargill’s Chinese plants would be approved to export to the U.S. What happened to the Trump Administration’s concerns about outsourcing U.S. jobs?
“Because the Trump Administration’s agreement with China pertains to ‘cooked’ poultry, it will not be subject to country of origin labeling requirements. Consumers will therefore not know whether they are eating chicken nuggets made from poultry raised in the U.S. or in China.
“We were fearful that the new USDA trade function would be used to promote exports at the expense of food safety. Today’s announcement underscores our concerns. We urge Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to rethink this potentially dangerous decision. Congress should maintain the prohibition on using processed chicken products from China in the National School Lunch Program, and should also conduct a full-scale review of the Trump Administration’s decision to move forward with the importation of Chinese poultry products. Should a proposed rule be published to grant China equivalency for its poultry inspection system, Food & Water Watch plans to oppose it too.”
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905