Washington, D.C. – Today, advocacy group Food & Water Watch sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue questioning the agency’s controversial decision to approve three new poultry slaughter facilities in China as “equivalent” to facilities operating under the USDA’s food safety system. The letter cites the “irregular” process in approving these facilities and asks for clarification on how the decision was made.
The letter notes that in December 2017, Food & Water Watch learned of that three new plants had been added by the Chinese government as eligible establishments in October 2017. Usually, this information on eligible foreign establishments is available within days, not months. So on December 21, 2017, the organization submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for all communications regarding the revised list.
On July 5, 2018, Food & Water Watch finally received a response from FSIS to the request, and documents revealed that FSIS staff questioned Chinese food safety officials about adding plants in provinces that had not previously been designated as being qualified to meet FSIS inspection standards. All FSIS did before revising the list was accept their assurances that the new plants could meet U.S. standards.
At a January 25, 2018 consumer stakeholders meeting, FSIS confirmed it had never audited two of the new plants added to the list, nor had the provincial inspection offices that were responsible for them.
“We find this to be unacceptable,” says Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, in the letter to Secretary Perdue. “In our opinion, the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] inspection system does not meet our standards. The fact that the 2010 audit revealed that the PRC did not have a uniform inspection system across all of its provinces and FSIS has determined equivalency by conducting audits recently in only two of the PRC’s provinces shows to us that FSIS’s decision to accept the PRC’s certification of these new plants was flawed.”
Among the findings of the 2010 audit were the following:
- China’s central food safety authority – the Administration for Quality and Safety and Quarantine (AQSIQ) – provided limited coordination of the inspection staff leading to wide variation in inspection procedures from province to province;
- There were critical flaws in the national HACCP standards that did not meet FSIS equivalence criteria;
- Regulatory oversight of processing plants’ HACCP systems was inadequate;
- AQSIS permitted establishment-paid personnel to conduct official government inspection duties.
“We have our suspicions about why this took place because other trade considerations have historically complicated an honest assessment of the PRC’s food safety system,” continues the letter. “USDA should not risk the health and welfare of U.S. consumers with a faulty equivalency determination process.”
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]