Monday, September 23, 2013

Chicken processed in China: more questions than answers

As I mentioned earlier this month, the USDA has granted permission for chickens raised and slaughtered in the U.S. (and Canada, and Chile) to be exported to a handful of plants in China for processing. The downside of this arrangement for consumers is that the products using such chicken need not identify that it was processed in China.

I was pissed, and so is everyone who reads about the USDA ruling: China's track record for quality control, and more specifically food safety, is abysmal. That's why I was heartened to discover that members of Congress seem to be paying attention.

“Given the well-documented shortcomings of the Chinese food safety system, we shouldn’t allow unmarked meat into our markets that is processed in Chinese facilities that are not subject to food safety inspections,” [Sen. Sherrod] Brown [D-OH] stated in a press release accompanying his letter to [Secretary of Agriculture Tom] Vilsack.
Brown also has specific questions for Vilsack. A couple of most important (as far as I'm concerned) are:
Is it true that poultry processed in China would be labeled upon reaching our shores and possibly subject to re-inspection, but regulatory exemptions for processed poultry and meats allow labeling to be removed before these products are purchased by American consumers? If so, how might the labeling gap be remedied by USDA?

What additional regulatory or labeling steps might USDA take to ensure that American consumers are given all currently available information regarding supply chain safety and country of origin of their meat products (processed and unprocessed)?

Vilsack hasn't yet responded.

Brown wants USDA inspectors stationed at the Chinese processing plants, but I doubt that any inspection regimen can compensate for the reality that Chinese businesses don't take quality control or food safety as seriously as we do.

No, this nonsense about consumers not being allowed to know the origins of the ingredients in processed (or for that matter unprocessed) foods has got to stop. We consumers have the right to know who's handling our food and to have that information unambiguously spelled out on labels. Period.

Time to poke your Congresscritters and tell them to pepper Vilsack with their own questions, or join in asking Brown's.

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