The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the initial approval for four companies in China to begin processing chickens slaughtered in the U.S. and Canada and then export the meat back into the United States. The globe-trotting chicken will be cooked and/or "heat-treated" abroad and still have to pass USDA muster, but no inspections or monitoring will actually take place in China. Critics of the plan argue that, in addition to concerns about food safety, the change in policy signals a broader overture for the United States to open up future imports of birds that were raised, slaughtered, and processed in that country.
The development was first reported when Politico posted the contents of audit reports ahead of their release on Friday — which is to say just before the long weekend started and everyone stopped paying attention to the news. "All outstanding issues have been resolved," wrote an official, green-lighting the four processors as compliant with standards.
The idea of sending chicken carcasses to China only to have the (hopefully) vacuum-packed meat eventually return Stateside and appear on supermarket shelves may seem something of an unnecessary effort, but because the move suggests the U.S. may eventually be able to once again sell a lot more beef to China, Bloomberg argues, it's a good thing.
There are several problems with the possible USDA approval of poultry raised in China, including the potential for contamination and counterfeit meat. The sum of all food-safety nightmares in China recently included the sale of maggot-filled sausages and 50-year-old chicken feet. Perhaps worst of all, because no country-of-origin labels are required under the new rules, the Times reports, consumers will have no way of knowing where their bird has been.
Don't Trust a Chicken Nugget That's Visited China [Bloomberg]
Audit gives China green light to process U.S. chicken [Politico]
Chinese Chicken Processors Are Cleared to Ship to U.S. [NYT]
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