The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave approval for four Chinese poultry processors to import into the United States, lifting a ban set to protect Americans against deadly avian influenza breakouts. The processors will only be allowed to re-export heat-treated/cooked chicken that has been initially slaughtered in the U.S. or another nation that exports slaughtered chickens to the United States.
According to the USDA report, the audit that took place in March found China's chicken plants were up to the same processing standard as those in United States, which means that the products are "safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly labeled.” However, no USDA inspectors will be present in the Chinese processing plants, which means American consumers are not guaranteed that their chicken is being slaughtered in safe and sanitary conditions.
China has an infamous reputation as one of the world’s worst food safety offenders. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report on a Chinese chicken jerky manufacturer that created dog treats tied to more than 500 dogs' deaths. The treats were later recalled and blamed for 2,500 animal illnesses. The FDA later found falsified documents, mislabels, and import shortcuts.
Just this year, bird flu infected nearly 30 people, which caused a temporary shutdown of wet markets and the possibility of a permanent ban on the sale of live poultry in Shanghai. After the human death toll in China rose to six earlier this year, 20,000 birds were euthanized as a precautionary measure. Even more recently, last month, rice tainted with unsafe levels of the toxic cancer-causing metal, cadmium, was found in southern China.
According to Larry Pope, the chief executive of Smithfield Foods, which recently made a poultry trade agreement to sell chicken to China, believes trade with China would be beneficial.
“This means increased capacity for U.S. producers, more jobs in the processing and more exports for the U.S. economy,” Pope told the New York Times. “At the same time, we will continue to supply our same high-quality, renowned products to U.S. consumers.