Just a year ago, the first poultry products processed in China from raw chicken raised and slaughtered in Chile entered the United States — a mere 110 pounds of cooked breaded chicken. But a congressional food safety expert says two of three new Chinese poultry processing plants eligible since late 2017 to export products to the United States are located in provinces never subjected to equivalency auditing by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro, D-CT, sent a letter Friday to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue expressing concerns about the situation. She is a senior member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and chairs the Congressional Food Safety Caucus.
“For years, China has dealt with issues caused by the deficiencies of a fragmented food safety system,” DeLauro wrote. “Most recently, researchers have identified multiple antibiotic-resistant genes being carried by the country’s commercial chicken flock.
“I strongly believe FSIS must be much more proactive and thorough when it comes to evaluation of other countries’ food safety systems, which is why I am alarmed by the recent release of emails that show FSIS taking a stunningly passive approach in approving three new Chinese poultry processing as eligible to export to the United States.”
DeLauro is referring to emails between China’s Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) and FSIS officials in 2017 that discussed whether China maintains oversight of all its establishments regardless of provincial location.
“Local CQI’s (China’s Inspection and Quarantine) and animal husbandry and veterinary departments take individual responsibility for supervision and conduct official oversight on all poultry establishments including those two potential poultry export establishments…” CNCA said in a Dec 10, 2017, email to FSIS.
The email exchange seems to show that FSIS accepted the response from China’s Certification and Accreditation Administration and moved forward with the certification of the new plants, DeLauro contends.
“Not only is it inappropriate for FSIS to accept a ‘simple confirmation’ of China’s food safety oversight procedures through email, but the exchange also raises serious questions about whether the inspection and oversight processes occurring in the newly certified poultry plants are equivalent to those of the United States,” DeLauro wrote to Perdue.
China is not currently permitted to export poultry products to the U.S. if the birds are raised and slaughtered in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The poultry processing plants that have been approved to process chickens for the U.S. market must obtain raw poultry from “approved sources.”
DeLauro’s July 20 letter to Perdue follows a July 11 facsimile to the secretary by Food and Water Watch (F&WW), a Washington D.C.-based activist group on the same subject. Its work using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to dig the emails out of FSIS appears to have helped frame DeLauro’s questions to Perdue.
“Should equivalency be granted to the slaughter system, the PRC would be eligible to export its own poultry to the U.S,” F&WW told Perdue. The group’s letter suggests “trade considerations” may have prompted the FSIS actions.
For her part, DeLauro is asking Perdue to answer these questions by Aug. 31:
- Photo illustration
Does USDA believe that granting equivalency to the entire Chinese poultry processing system based on a small business of audits in a limited amount of Chinese provinces was a responsible decision? If so, how does the department justify the determination?
- The email exchange between FSIS and CVCA officials reveals that FSIS believed only Shandong and Anhui Provinces maintained government oversight of certified establishments, “based on the previous correspondence.” What was the previous correspondence? Previously what documentation had been given to FSIS to validate government oversight in Shandong and Anhui Provinces? Does FSIS still believe that only Shandong and Anhui Providences maintain government oversight of certified establishments? Why or why not?
- The email exchange also shows an FSIS official questioning whether establishments identified with the numbers 4100/03078 and 3500/03066 have adequate AQSIQ oversight. CNCA replied by saying that the “local CIQs and animal husbandry and veterinary departments take individual responsibility for supervision.” Does FSIS believe that this local oversight is equivalent to the United States? If so, why does FSIS believe this? Has FSIS ever audited local CIQs? If not, what is FSIS’s justification for not doing so.
- Were any of these newly certified Chinese poultry processing plants recently inspected by the CNCA, or similar authority? Has FSIS requested documentation and details from any such inspections? If not, what is FSIS’s justification for not doing so.?
- Per FSIS policy, each country eligible to export products to the United States should be identified, by performance, as adequate, average, or well-performing to determine the frequency at which FSIS will conduct Ongoing Equivalence Verification Audits. Countries classified as “adequately performing” would be audited every year, “average performing” countries every two years, and “well-performing” countries every three years.
China is ranked as “adequate” by FSIS, meaning it should get annual audits. DeLauro says most recent audit of China was in July 2016. Her final questions are: “Were on-site audits conducted in China in 2017 and 2018? If not, why?” If so when will these audit reports be publicly available? Is there an on-site audit planning for China in 2019? If not, why?
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Yet again another food scandal is among us as the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently agreed to allow four chicken processing plants in China to raise and slaughter their chickens in the U.S., export them to China for processing, and them ship them back to the U.S. These chickens will then be sold on every grocery store shelf in the United States with no country of origin labeling. What’s worse is that U.S. inspectors will not be on site at the processing plants in China before the processed chicken will be shipped to the U.S. Again, chicken from China labeled “Made In America”?
- USDA approves shipping slaughtered chicken to China and back, says you can eat it
- USDA Allows China to Process U.S. Chicken
- Are China’s Chickens Contaminating America’s Plates?
- State of the Chicken Industry 2019
- ‘Made In China’ Chicken To Be Sold In US – With No Label
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Related article: Chicken from China? USDA on board with shipping U.S. chickens to China for processing, then re-entry to States for human consumption
This means there will be little to no control over how the cooked chicken is processed in China. It’s a drastic threat to the health of US consumers and something that must be stopped. China is already notorious for food safety issues. How much longer are we going to hand over control of various US industries to China?
Our health is at risk. Food safety experts are worried about the quality of this processed chicken since China is notorious for toxic foods. Concerns among the public are warranted when you consider that the CDC estimates 325,000 Americans are hospitalized every year from food poisoning, with 3,000 resultant deaths.
Related article: CDC Report Makes Case for Food Safety Bill
Of the massive amount of imported food coming to America, the FDA only has the resources to inspect less than 2 percent. This is a major problem because many nations have less stringent food safety regulations than the United States. Even for the imported chicken from China, Chinese processors won’t be required by the USDA to follow point-of-origin labeling laws because the chicken will already be cooked. This is another huge concern for consumers, as there will be no proof where their chicken came from. It will even lead to other problems such as food counterfeiting — something that so far has largely been restricted to fish markets.
Related article: The Threat of Imported Toxic Food
Not having proper labels also makes it impossible for American consumers to tell if the chicken they want to buy was processed in the U.S. or China, placing a huge burden on families who wish to stay away from foreign foods.
Chicken From China Labeled “Made In America”? Contact your Congressional representative and urge them to stand against this latest agreement between the USDA and China. Send this to five of your friends and have them do the same!
The list, which includes plants run by poultry processing businesses such as Foster Farms, Perdue Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms, has been published on the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service portal.
Earlier this month, China lifted the ban on the import of US poultry that had been in place since January 2015. The ban had been put in place due to an avian influence outbreak in the US.
At the peak of poultry trade between the US and China, the annual value of poultry exports was worth $71m for turkey and $722m for chicken.
Poultry trade bodies in the US estimate that renewed access to the Chinese market could result in $1bn in sales annually for chicken paws alone and, due to China’s meat protein deficit as a result of African Swine Fever, there could be as much as another $1bn of potential exports of other chicken products, including leg and breast meat. It believes that turkey exports could generate another $100m in sales and poultry breeding stock could create at least $60m more for US producers.
USDA approves shipping slaughtered chicken to China and back, says you can eat it
If you’ve ever seen what a poultry farm looks like you would not believe chicken that has been slaughtered, frozen, shipped to China for processing, and then shipped back to the US to be sold to consumers was still edible.
I can believe it is cheap, or no one would have thought to put other people at risk to make it happen.
“Chinese chicken” will soon have a whole new meaning, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently gave the green-light to four chicken processing plants in China, allowing chicken raised and slaughtered in the U.S. to be exported to China for processing, and then shipped back to the U.S. and sold on grocery shelves here. Furthermore, the imported processed poultry will not require a country-of-origin label nor will U.S. inspectors be on site at processing plants in China before it is shipped to the United States for human consumption.
Food safety experts worry about the quality of chicken processed in a country notorious for avian influenza and food-borne illnesses. And they predict that China will eventually seek to broaden the export rules to allow chickens born and raised in China.
“Economically, it doesn’t make much sense,” said Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, in a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle. “Think about it: A Chinese company would have to purchase frozen chicken in the U.S., pay to ship it 7,000 miles, unload it, transport it to a processing plant, unpack it, cut it up, process/cook it, freeze it, repack it, transport it back to a port, then ship it another 7,000 miles. I don’t know how anyone could make a profit doing that.”
Bureau of Labor Statistics data estimates that American poultry processors are paid roughly $11 per hour on average. In China, reports have circulated that the country’s chicken workers can earn significantly less—$1 to 2 per hour—which casts doubt on Super’s economic feasibility assessment.
I know the video is about cattle. LAUGH, ok?!
USDA Allows China to Process U.S. Chicken
While the logistics are hard to imagine-if we can’t safely leave chicken out for the length of a family picnic, how can it be shipped halfway around the world and back with no ill effects?-the USDA is doing its best to reassure both chicken farmers and consumers that the process is 100-percent safe.
“The Food Safety and Inspection Service’s number-one priority is always food safety,” Perkins says. In the official memo, the FSIS says that “all outstanding issues have been resolved”-a pretty big promise considering that in the past year alone China has made news for passing off rat meat as mutton, selling sausages filled with maggots, inexplicably finding thousands of dead pigs floating in the waters of Shanghai, and even having an outbreak of the H7N9 bird flu in live poultry.
“We do have a concern about safety,” National Chicken Council senior vice president Bill Roenigk said in a statement. “But we’ve been assured and reassured by the USDA that they will do 100-percent testing on poultry products from China. We have confidence that the USDA will do that testing and do it in a good and adequate manner.”
RELATED: 7 Foods a Nutritionist Would Never Eat
However Perkins adds that while there will be increased testing on the chicken before re-entering the U.S., they will not be doing any on-site monitoring or testing in China, a fact that Rep. Rosa De Lauro (D-Conn.) said in a statement is “deeply worrisome” for American consumers. Even worse, a report just this month from the United States Government Accountability Office found that the USDA’s domestic poultry inspections have a lot of problems anyhow, as they are in the process of replacing certified-USDA inspectors with those provided by the poultry companies themselves.
In addition to the concerns that this decision could open the door for even more unsafe practices, no country-of-origin labels are required under the new rules, so consumers won’t know where their bird is coming from. Plus industry insiders warn that the move is politically motivated by a desire to get China to re-allow lucrative U.S. beef imports and will likely lead to allowing imports of Chinese chickens, a practice that’s been banned since bird flu and other food safety concerns first surfaced.
All of this has many recommending to buy local so you know your dinner is safe and 100-percent all-American.
- By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Are China’s Chickens Contaminating America’s Plates?
This summer saw a quiet, but potentially momentous, shift in the economic relationship between the United States and China. It centers on chicken.
On June 27, a 90-pound shipment of cooked chicken from China departed Qingdao in Shandong province and headed to the United States. It will almost certainly be the first of many such shipments, in accordance with a proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in mid-June to allow chickens slaughtered and processed in China to be exported to the United States for the first time since 2004.
It was a step that Chinese policymakers had long requested — and one that had long stirred controversy among their U.S. counterparts, who cited a long history of consumer safety scandals in China. The best-known scandal dates to 2008, when baby formula adulterated with melamine caused 54,000 babies to become sick, resulting in the deaths of six — that was not long after the discovery of melamine-contaminated wheat gluten and rice protein exported to the U.S. market and of Chinese-made dumplings tainted with the insecticide methamidophos.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) criticized the idea of expanding chicken imports from China as a slap in the face to American consumers, who purchase more chicken than any other meat: “Plain and simple, President Trump and the officials at USDA are prioritizing trade over the health and safety of American families.” Chinese officials and industrial executives, on the other hand, are baffled by the persistent resistance from the U.S. Congress, noting that their chicken processing facilities have a long record of exporting products to Japan and the European Union, where food safety regulations are as tight as in the United States, if not tighter.
The reality is more nuanced. Panic at the prospect of imported Chinese chicken is certainly unwarranted. But any fair assessment of the issue demands that America’s consumer safety authorities, and the hundreds of millions of meat-eaters they serve, become more vigilant.
The Chicken Odyssey
While it takes only 11 hours by air to transport the chicken meat from Qingdao to Los Angeles, it took 14 years for cooked poultry from China to return to the United States — an odyssey compounded by politics, protectionism, and public health concerns. In early 2004, during the H5N1 bird flu outbreak, China stopped importing poultry products from the United States. Later, it agreed to call off the ban, but the United States failed to reciprocate.
The primary reason for this was that Congress prohibited the USDA from using any funds to establish or implement a rule allowing imports of Chinese poultry products. Between 2004 and 2008, U.S. chicken exports to China saw a nearly 2,000 percent increase, from 36 million pounds to 734 million pounds, but China’s chicken meat exports to the U.S. remained at zero. Upset by this trade imbalance, some Chinese business leaders called for the government to inflict equivalent retaliation. In response, China has maintained high tariffs on U.S. poultry exports despite a 2013 World Trade Organization finding that the duties breached WTO rules. In June 2009, China also filed a complaint with the WTO, which later ruled that the U.S. ban fundamentally violated relevant WTO rules. Amid fears of a tit-for-tat trade war, Congress lifted the ban on Chinese-processed poultry, on the condition that China would pass USDA on-site audits and sanitary inspections. While the first audit revealed that China failed to comply with U.S. standards, the second audit found that China had corrected all issues identified in the previous audit. This paved the way for the USDA to lift the ban on processed Chinese poultry in August 2013. Due to lingering food safety concerns, though, the U.S. has only allowed the importation of poultry products that are processed but not slaughtered in China. The new proposed plan would allow China to export poultry products from birds raised and slaughtered there.
But even staunch defenders of free trade cannot brush off the concerns about food safety issues associated with Chinese poultry. Historically, China’s food safety record has been poor, if not terrifying. Between 2003 and 2014, at least 37 fake and toxic food safety scandals were reported in Chinese media.
Over the past two or three years, however, the Chinese government has undertaken some important steps to improve food safety in China, including the promulgation of a revised Food Safety Law in 2015, which was touted as China’s toughest food safety law to date. Since then, major food safety scandals have rarely been reported. Government-sponsored surveys also suggested growing consumer confidence in food safety in China. The improvement in China’s food safety is indicated by results of food safety inspections conducted by AsiaInspection, a China-based quality control and compliance company, which found that about 40 percent of the factories it inspected in China in 2015 failed to meet health and safety standards, compared with 48 percent in 2014.
But as a 2016 report prepared by some of the country’s leading food safety experts acknowledged, sustained food safety risks are still present in stages of production, processing, distribution, and consumption. The government’s regulatory capacity in food safety remains weak. Efforts to merge the functions of several bureaucratic agencies (food and drug safety, quality inspection, and administration of commerce and trade) into one market supervision administration have only undercut the role of food safety regulators. In one county, the new administration of market and quality supervision has a total staff of only 37 (including 14 in leadership positions), who have to regulate over 1,000 catering businesses in the county seat alone.
The capacity gap is further widened by the lack of independent press and civil society oversight of food safety. Even China’s own food safety chief admitted in February 2017 that there were still “complicated and severe problems” in China’s food safety system. Indeed, China’s Food and Drug Administration found 500,000 instances of illegal food safety violations in the first three quarters of 2016. As a group of Chinese scientists pointed out, in terms of food safety, “Nowhere has that situation been more complex and challenging than in China, where a combination of pollution and an increasing food safety risk have affected a large part of the population.”
How (Un)Safe is Chicken Meat from China?
Unlike with other food products, the safety of poultry meat is particularly a concern due to the frequent outbreaks of avian flu, which can infect people who are exposed to infected poultry. Beginning in 2013, China has experienced five waves of H7N9 outbreaks, with the most recent one (2016-2017) the most severe. In January 2017 alone, nearly 200 people were infected, leading to 79 deaths. The surge in H7N9 infections and deaths led the government to shut down live poultry markets across the country in February.
Because the newly proposed trade deal concerns only cooked poultry, which eliminates the safety risk from viruses or bacteria in the raw meat, the most significant risk of new poultry imports from China isn’t avian flu but contamination by bacteria or additives during the production and packaging process — when the poultry is not cooked properly, for example, or when it is adulterated intentionally (though illegally), or when there is some type of cross-contamination. This continues to be an issue in China. In 2015, nearly one-quarter of the products from China that were deemed unqualified by Chinese food inspectors failed due to an overuse of additives; intentional adulteration accounts for another 1.2 percent of the unqualified sample products. Contaminated chicken meat is hard to trace to the source, because cooked poultry is considered a processed food item and is excluded from country-of-origin labeling requirements in the United States.
When it comes to poultry raised in China, chicken meat may also contain heavy metals and veterinary drug residues that have harmful health effects. According to a report from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in 2013 more than 50 percent of the 162,000 tons of antibiotics used in China were for veterinary use — and each year, over 50,000 tons of antibiotics are released to the environment. The concentration of antibiotics in China’s main rivers is 2.5 times higher than the level in U.S. rivers. This is alarming: According to the CDC, each year 2 million Americans get sick and 230,000 die of an infection that is resistant to antibiotics. In 2014, China began to outlaw the overuse of antibiotics for aquaculture use, but it admits to lacking effective regulation over antibiotics production and distribution. The government recently announced a plan to increase surveillance, oversight, and monitoring of poultry and livestock to decrease the presence of antibiotics residues by 2020, although how it will be implemented remains to be seen.
Heavy metal concentration in Chinese poultry is likely also high due to environmental pollution, especially from widespread coal burning, which releases lead, mercury, and arsenic that contaminates air and soil and ends up in animal feed and animal meat, posing threats to food safety.
But the issue of unsafe poultry products may not be unique to China. As Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist at Food & Water Watch, indicated at a recent briefing on Capitol Hill, raw chicken produced in Chile (which China imports to process and export to the United States) is not necessarily safer than Chinese raw chicken. In 2013, after determining shipments of poultry from Chile contained dioxin, the USDA had to ask importers to hold chicken products from the country for re-inspection.
Does Chinese Chicken Pose an Imminent Threat to U.S. Food Safety?
So chicken raised in China does pose a safety risk to U.S. consumers. But the critical question is whether that risk is big enough to be worth taking seriously. And that requires an understanding of how productive the Chinese poultry industry is compared with its competitors — and how those competitors will respond to the new market entrant.
China is the second-largest poultry producer in the world (after the United States), with annual poultry production of 180 million tons. Moreover, it’s been reported that in the absence of USDA inspectors, Cargill’s slaughterhouse in China can process 225 chickens per minute, much higher than the processing speed of its counterpart in the United States (140 per minute). Out of a fear of Chinese chicken dominating the U.S. market, some American domestic chicken producers have already formed an alliance with U.S. consumer groups and legislators to highlight the dangers of importing Chinese chicken.
Despite the competitiveness of the Chinese poultry industry, it is unlikely that we will see an influx of Chinese poultry products into the U.S. market anytime soon. First, the proposed rule change comes from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, but in order to finalize the USDA proposal of importing chicken slaughtered in China, more political and technical hoops need to be jumped through. To the extent it took another four years for cooked poultry sourced from Chile to arrive in the United States, it might take even longer for poultry of Chinese origin to appear on U.S. consumers’ dining tables. Second, the USDA approval is not a permanent pass for Chinese poultry products: The USDA will continue to audit Chinese facilities on an annual basis and all such products will be subject to re-inspection at the U.S. port-of-entry by Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors. There is no guarantee that China will pass the audit, which itself is not immune to political pressures. It is not hard to imagine a single food safety incident associated with Chinese poultry playing into the hands of those against the trade deal, who in turn would use the case to (again) shut down the doors of the U.S. market to Chinese poultry.
Third, the volume of Chinese poultry is unlikely to be significant in the U.S. market, at least in the short run. Thus far, China still cannot export raw poultry to the United States because the USDA has classified China as a region affected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. The trade volume is also limited by the ban on imported Chinese chicken being served in school meals. In July, in response to the USDA proposal, Congresswoman DeLauro also introduced bipartisan legislation that would prevent Chinese chicken from being used in federal nutrition programs.
Furthermore, in the current atmosphere of economic nationalism, not all U.S. companies are enthusiastic about importing Chinese chickens. Tyson Foods, for example, has announced that it has no plans to raise or process chicken in China to be returned to the United States. On the Chinese side, under the current deal the poultry will be processed in only four facilities in China’s Shandong province. Even if the USDA proposal is finalized, China reportedly intends to certify only five slaughter sites to provide poultry to the designated processing plants that will export cooked poultry products to the United States. That may explain why China estimates that it will export up to 324 million pounds of cooked chicken annually to the United States over the next five years, which is only 2.6 percent of total U.S. chicken meat production over the same period.
The volume of Chinese poultry in the U.S. market may be small, but that does not mean that U.S. policymakers should turn a blind eye on safety issues associated with Chinese food imports. Given the structural causes of food safety in China as well as the globalized food supply chain. U.S. President Donald Trump could have used his visit to strengthen U.S.-China cooperation in building a robust food safety regulatory system and to push for sending more U.S. personnel to China to conduct increased on-site inspections. Individual U.S. companies should also be encouraged (if not required) to label their individual products with country of origin. The United States may be importing Chinese chicken, but the food safety risks can be managed, if not eliminated.
State of the Chicken Industry 2019
Waiting for the game changer” characterizes the chicken industry’s outlook as producer/processors begin to turn the calendar to the New Year.
More specifically, confidence continues to build that the African Swine Fever (ASF) epidemic in China and at least seven surrounding Southeast Asian countries will require these countries to import an unprecedented quantity of pork, poultry, beef and other animal proteins.
When China first reported ASF in August 2018, the market reaction in the United States was that there would be a somewhat immediate increase in Chinese demand for animal protein from many international sources. It was not, however, until mid-2019 that China’s demand for more imported meat became evident.
State of the Industry 2019
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While “20/20” suggests good eyesight, there are still many questions and issues that cloud the outlook for the year 2020. Let’s look domestically first.
One record that has been broken annually since 2013 and continues to be broken is chicken consumption (see Annual Broiler Forecasts table).
Combined poultry and red meat consumption could reach more than 225 pounds per person in 2020 compared with more than 220 pounds in 2018. For consumers to be motivated to eat about five more pounds of poultry/red meat in 2020 will require a continued good U.S. general economy, low unemployment and retail poultry/meat prices favorable to consumers.
Boneless, skinless thighs continue to gain acceptance by consumers both as a product itself and as the primary ingredient in chicken sausages, breakfast and gourmet.
The #ChickenSandwichWars helped to boost consumption, as well. The summer debate over which restaurant chain serves the best chicken sandwich helped boost overall sales in the quick-service restaurant segment in August 2019, according to a report by the NPD Group.
Back overseas: For U.S. chicken, the likelihood of if or when product will again be permitted to be exported to China remains the most important issue. Unfortunately, since the 2015 avian influenza outbreak in turkey and layer flocks across the Midwest, China has maintained a blanket ban on all U.S. poultry and egg products, including breeding stock. At its peak in 2008, China was a $715 million market for broilers.
ANNUAL BROILER FORECASTS
Forecasts are in bold. * Per capita meat disappearance data are calculated using the Resident Population Plus Armed Forces Overseas series from the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce. All data as of Aug. 15, 2019. Source: World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates and Supporting Materials. For further information, contact: Mildred M. Haley, [email protected]
USDA forecasts chicken production in 2020 to be little more than 1 percent over 2019. This expected increase is even more modest than the less than 2 percent USDA sees for 2019.
A number of analysts believe the six new or rebuilt chicken complexes that came online in 2019 or will do so in 2020 offer the potential to ramp up chicken production measurably beyond 1 percent. Also, more than 100 plants are in the process of increasing evisceration line speed from 140 birds per minute to 175. While moving toward the more efficient line speed will likely take all of 2020 and beyond to achieve, it does indicate companies continue to see good demand for chicken at both home and abroad.
Usually, when USDA reports an expected increase in production of chicken or other animal proteins, it estimates an accompanying decrease in the producer or wholesale price associated with that protein.
However, USDA is now reporting for 2020 increased production for all poultry and meat and, at the same time, higher prices to be received by all animal producers. USDA analysts also see a game changer coming.
PROCESSED FRZ. FROZEN/ REFRIG. CHICKEN/ CHICKEN SUBSTITUTE:
TOP 10 RETAIL BRANDS
FROZEN/ REFRIG. CHICKEN/ CHICKEN SUBSTITUTE:
TOP 10 RETAIL BRANDS
Source: IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm (@iriworldwide). Total US Multi-Outlet w/ C-Store (Grocery, Drug, Mass Market, Convenience, Military and Select Club & Dollar Retailers), latest 52 weeks ending Aug. 11, 2019.
Note: Rankings of top brands are NOT totaled brand listings (e.g. all UPCs or brand extensions rolled up into a single figure, such as Total Crest Toothpaste), but are rather individual brand listings.
If China does re-open its market to U.S. chicken, the most immediate benefit will be exporting feet/paws. No additional chickens will need to be produced to meet this marketing opportunity, just a shifting of product from rendering to USDA inspection for export packaging.
Reportedly, China has indicated a willingness to consider importing pork, chicken, beef and other agricultural animal proteins on a contract-by-contract basis from countries that may not have normal trade relations with China. High import duties could also be waived under this program as China may try to moderate the consumer price inflation for pork and poultry.
If China does, in fact, import substantial quantities of U.S. chicken leg quarters and/or other back-of-the-bird parts, U.S. chicken companies will need to determine a profitable market for breast meat before they ramp up production. To accomplish an acceptable balance between the supply/demand for white meat/dark meat more than one outrageously popular quick-service chicken sandwich will have to hit the market.
It is becoming more evident that there will be significant “gap” between China’s usual production/consumption level of pork and how the shortfall will be filled. After adjusting for increased imports, drawdown of frozen inventory of pork and normal demand destruction caused by higher consumer pork prices, there will be a 5 to 10 million metric ton “gap” that cannot be filled. Depending on the strength of the Chinese general economy, additional demand destruction will have to occur.
Suppliers of pork and poultry who can service the Chinese market will significantly benefit, not just in 2020 but until a vaccine or some other breakthrough is discovered and successfully implemented in the affected countries. That timetable is most likely to be five years or more. An effective vaccine will be a major achievement because ASF has been infecting hogs for many decades. More than 40 countries have been exposed to this disease. Complicating the challenge to finding an effective vaccine is the very difficult issue that there are more than 20 variations of the virus.
The magnitude and duration of the game change will become more evident in 2020. NP
Catching up to this news, which dropped quietly just before the holiday weekend: In a first, the US Department of Agriculture has given permission for chicken products processed in the People’s Republic of China to be sold in the United States without labeling that would indicate where the chicken products came from.
The news was broken by Politico, whose writers obtained USDA documents before the agency released them, and then followed up by the New York Times, with some no-holds-barred analysis by Bloomberg Businessweek.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know that food safety in China is well below US standards. (See this post for stories of toxic vinegar, glow-in-the-dark pork, and more.) So it may be a surprise to hear that birds grown and slaughtered outside that country, but cooked and made into products in it, would be acceptable for sale here. Especially since the plants that USDA has approved for sales into the US market will not have USDA inspectors on site.
Here is the USDA notice, in the form of an audit issued by the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
This development fascinates me; it touches so many issues that have been percolating through food production and food safety.
First, there’s the decade of maneuvering between the US and China over meat exports in both directions. China, along with a number of other Asian nations, blocked US beef imports in 2003 after a Washington state cow tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, “mad cow” disease. Then in 2004, avian influenza flared in Asia; the US blocked imports of Chinese poultry, and in 2009 China brought a restraint-of-trade action against the US in front of the World Trade Organization. It won in 2010 – at about the same time that it accused the US of dumping chicken parts at below-market prices and slapped American poultry with tariffs of more than 100 percent.
The audit process that approved the Chinese plants began after the WTO decision; the USDA inspected, asked for corrective actions, inspected again, and finally approved the deal on Aug. 30. The audit allows China to sell back to the US only poultry that was raised and slaughtered in the US, or (as the audit documents say) a country “that FSIS determined to have a poultry slaughter inspection system equivalent to the US system.” But the magazine World Poultry notes: “Experts suggest that this could be the first step towards allowing China to export its own domestic chickens to the US.”
Second, there are the most recent moves around ensuring that imported food is safe. Most of the food consumed in the US is overseen not by USDA but by the Food and Drug Administration, which has been struggling for years with guaranteeing the safety of imports. Reports by the Government Accountability Office, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Pew Charitable Trusts and Center for Science in the Public Interest all found that the FDA could not keep up with the task; estimating that its inspectors were able to lay hands on no more than 2 percent of imported foods. The massive Food Safety Modernization Act tried to revamp the system for policing imports, which make up about 15 percent of the US diet; last July the FDA proposed regulations under that new law which said the best way forward was for companies handling imports to police their foreign suppliers themselves. The FDA rule is not final, but the USDA China audit seems to be following a similar pattern.
Third, there’s the already-contentious topic, “country of origin labeling,” known as COOL for short. The USDA has been implementing COOL for the past few years, requiring that retailers label meats, fish and shellfish, fruits and vegetables, and some nuts if they originated outside the US. Much of the US meat industry has been fighting COOL in court; the most recent hearing (covered by Food Safety News) was Aug. 27. Yet according to the USDA, the Chinese processing allowed under the new audit elides COOL requirements, because – no matter what is done in processing – the chicken meat originated in the US.
Last, there’s how neatly this spotlights the global nature of food production, especially the way that inexpensive transport has changed how food is raised and made. Just to reiterate what’s going to be allowed: chickens raised in the US (or “equivalent” countries), and slaughtered in the country where they were grown, are going to be shipped across the globe to be turned into processed products, and then shipped back to be sold. Developing-world labor, and containerized shipping (so well explained by Rose George in the new book Ninety Percent of Everything), are both so inexpensive that it is cheaper to send a chicken nugget around the world to be ground, formed and breaded than to do all that in the place where the chicken was raised.
‘Made In China’ Chicken To Be Sold In US – With No Label
image credit dailyfinance.com
Very quietly, and without a peep from the mainstream media, the United States has made it possible for chicken to be processed in China and then sold to you here in America – without a label identifying it as “processed in China.”
This past spring, the US Department of Agriculture conducted inspections in several Chinese processing plants with the goal of making it possible to allow foreign producers to send processed chicken to American markets for sale. Then, just days ago in early September, the green light was given to four processing plants to begin processing and exporting chicken to America, without USDA inspectors on site.
At first, China will only be able to process chicken that’s been slaughtered in the United States or in other equally certified countries. So, that chicken nugget you’re about to feed your children? It very well could have once been a chicken that lived and was slaughtered here in the United States, but was sent around the world for processing – crossing the Pacific Ocean twice.
Since 2004, exports of Chinese chicken and other in-country processed chicken were put on hold due to outbreaks of bird flu and other food safety issues. However, even amid new outbreaks of bird flu leading to human deaths in 2013, the USDA says that all outstanding issues and concerns have since been resolved, and that China may proceed with processing in the four approved facilities.
Several advocacy groups have petitioned the USDA to ban the sale of Chinese-processed chicken, or at the very least, require companies to label their products as “processed in China.” However, the USDA has rejected all of these petitions and has no plans to require these processed chicken products to be labeled.
Additionally, some advocacy groups say that the USDA’s recent move to allow chicken to be processed in China is just a part of a bigger political issue that’s in play.
By allowing China to process US certified chicken, critics say the USDA hopes to sweet talk China into lifting its bans on US exports of beef and pork products. It “just so happens” that in 2013, China’s demand for beef imports has soared, yet the United States continues to be shut out of the market due to old concerns of American beef and mad cow disease from 2003. Again, the USDA denies all claims of playing politics, and insists that its recent move is a good one for American consumers.
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But it does make one wonder … could we really be trading our own food safety in exchange for a bigger slice of the beef trade market? As the saying goes, money talks, and chickens get sent to China for processing.
- 2003: China blocks all US beef imports after one cow in Washington state tests positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, aka “mad cow disease.”
- 2004: Avian influenza, or “bird flu,” rages in Asia. The United States blocks imports of Chinese poultry.
- 2009: China brings a restraint-of-trade action against the USA
- 2010: China slaps a hefty tariff (over 100 percent) on all American poultry, accusing the US of selling chicken at below-market prices.
- 2013: China has record-breaking sales of beef in the first two quarters of 2013 (up over 900 percent from the year before). US beef still not allowed for import.
- 2013: USDA approves allowing four plants to process US raised and certified chicken.
So, what’s the problem with chicken processed in China?
Food safety measures in China are sub-par at best, and the country has been no stranger to food illness controversy in recent years. Back in 2011, 11 people died and over a hundred were sickened when it was found that vinegar which had been processed in China had been stored in barrels that once contained antifreeze. Add this to the growing list of Chinese food scandals such as glow-in the-dark meat, evidence of growth accelerators in exploding watermelon crops, use of bleach in mushroom crop processing, and melamine-tainted milk, just to name a few scandals in recent years.
The US poultry industry remained guarded in its response to the USDA’s recent announcement. Safety is a top concern for the poultry industry, and the industry is pushing for 100 percent testing on all products processed in China.
Additionally, the industry is concerned about the economics of sending US-raised chicken to China for processing. There are real fears and concerns that this move by the USDA will eventually open the door to allowing China to send its own born-and-raised poultry to the USA for sale, further narrowing the already slim bottom line for American chicken farmers.
Despite the USDA’s promises to closely monitor these four processing plants and test all processed chicken coming out of China, many food safety advocates aren’t buying into it. Rep. Rosa De Lauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, called the USDA’s recent decision “deeply worrisome to American consumers.” Her statement:
“The audit released today erases neither the fact that past inspections revealed unsanitary conditions at China’s poultry processing plants nor the fact that U.S. inspectors will not be onsite at these plants going forward to ensure the exported products are safe. … Sadly, business interests, which are currently also attacking country-of-origin labeling so consumers do not even know where the meat they are consuming is coming from, are trumping the public interest.”
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Another potential problem – the FDA
Most of the food we consume here in the United States is not tested or overseen by the USDA, which is the agency granting China the right to process chicken. Instead, the job of checking food imports is handled by the Food and Drug Administration.
And the FDA is no stranger to made-in-China scandals, either. (Anyone remember the 2007 toxic toothpaste scandal?)
In recent years, the FDA has had a hard time keeping up with the task of inspecting imported foods. Reports by several agencies, including the Office of the Inspector General and Department of Health and Human Services, found that FDA inspectors were only able to lay their hands on approximately 2 percent of all imported foods, as Off The Grid News reported. And it looks like we can now add processed chicken to the ever-growing list of foods that need to be inspected by the FDA.
Scary? You bet.
Just slap a label on it. While that would seem downright practical and easy to do, at this time, it’s not going to be done, at least not voluntarily. “Country of Origin Labeling,” or COOL, has been a hot topic in American food culture for several years now as many industry giants have fought COOL restrictions in court, and have won on several occasions.
The USDA requires that retailers label meats, fish, shellfish, fruits, vegetables and nuts that have originated outside of the United States. However, this new processed-in-China chicken may fall through the cracks as the chicken itself did not originate in another country. It just traveled around the world and back again for processing. And you, the consumer, will have no way of knowing where it was processed unless you do your own detective work. (And good luck with that!)
A quick recap
The long and short of it is this: Chickens born and raised in the good old USA (or “equivalent” countries) will be slaughtered here, then packed up and shipped halfway across the globe to be turned into nuggets and other processed products, then shipped back to the USA to be sold. With no rules requiring the chicken have a “processed in China” label. Somehow, we are supposed to believe, that this newly approved process is going to cost the poultry and food industry less money, be 100 percent safe for the consumer, and is in no way playing games for political gain? Is it really cheaper to send a chicken nugget around the world to be processed than it is to do it right here on American soil? Are we really telling China that we don’t trust them to raise healthy chickens for us to consume, but we’ll trust them to process our own chicken? It would seem that is exactly what the USDA is saying. For one reason or another. You decide.
More than 99% of the chicken sold in the United States comes from chickens hatched, raised and processed in the United States. None currently come from China. Less than 1% of the chicken we consume is imported from Canada and Chile.
I heard that that the U.S. may soon begin importing cooked chicken from China. Is that true?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that America’s supply of meat, poultry, processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged. Part of achieving this mission includes ensuring countries that export these products to the United States have food safety systems in place that are equivalent to our domestic system.
If a country requests to export an FSIS-regulated product to the United States, FSIS is obligated to undergo a thorough process to determine whether or not that country’s food safety system is equivalent to ours to ensure that American consumers would receive food that is safe to eat. China has requested such a review in order to export poultry products. In response, over the past several years FSIS has reviewed China’s poultry food safety system in two parts: one system for processing poultry, and one system for slaughtering poultry. In August 2013, FSIS announced that based on its review of China’s system for processed poultry, China is eligible to export processed, fully-cooked chicken from the United States and other approved source countries (like Canada or Chile,) to the U.S. On March 4, 2016, FSIS published a follow-up audit report on a follow-up audit of China’s processing system that found China’s processing system continues to be equivalent. This does not pertain to chickens that were raised in China.
However, there have been no shipments made to date to the U.S. of any chicken that has been processed in China. Because of the economies of scale achieved by the U.S. chicken industry, it is difficult for any country to compete domestically in the United States.
For Frequently Asked Questions on USDA’s Equivalence of China’s Poultry Processing and Slaughter Inspection Systems, please .
Back in August 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a final report regarding the food safety system governing the processing of chicken for export in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The gist of that report was that four Chinese poultry processors were approved to begin shipping a limited amount of processed chicken products to the United States, provided those products were derived from chickens raised in countries that met FSIS standards:
The PRC was added to the list of countries eligible to export processed poultry to the United States with the following stipulation: processed heat-treated poultry products must be derived from flocks slaughtered under (1) the U.S. inspection system or (2) the inspection system of another country eligible to export slaughtered poultry products to the United States.
With all outstanding issues resolved, the PRC may certify a list of establishments eligible to export processed (heat-treated/cooked) poultry products to the United States, as long as the raw poultry is sourced from countries that have been determined by FSIS to have an equivalent poultry slaughter inspection system.
This action followed years of wrangling between the U.S. and China over the export of meat products to each other:
The poultry trade between the United States and China has been contentious for years. Under the Bush administration, the U.S.D.A. moved to allow imports of chicken from China, which has banned imports of American beef since 2003 over worries about mad cow disease.
In response, Congress blocked Chinese chicken exports. China retaliated by slapping huge tariffs on American chicken. The fight ended up at the World Trade Organization, which ruled that the tariffs were too high.
After that, the U.S.D.A. then audited Chinese processing plants, giving its approval for them to process raw birds from the United States and Canada.
The USDA’s action in approving Chinese poultry exports to the U.S. raised concerns among many American consumers, especially given China’s spotty record for product safety, the absence of on-site USDA inspectors, and the lack of a requirement for Chinese poultry exports to bear labels identifying their country of origin:
China does not have the best track record for food safety, and its chicken products in particular have raised questions. The country has had frequent outbreaks of deadly avian influenza, which it sometimes has been slow to report.
Under the new rules, the Chinese facilities will verify that cooked products exported to the United States came from American or Canadian birds. So no U.S.D.A. inspector will be present in the plants.
And because the poultry will be processed, it will not require country-of-origin labeling. Nor will consumers eating chicken noodle soup from a can or chicken nuggets in a fast-food restaurant know if the chicken came from Chinese processing plants.
The USDA approval also raised a host of issues for American consumers about guarantees of food safety:
For starters, how will consumers here know that the processed chicken and turkey that is shipped back to the United States is the same chicken and turkey that was originally sent from the United States or other USDA-approved country in the first place? If USDA inspectors will not be on site in China, how will U.S. consumers know whether or not the poultry has been mishandled during processing, tampered with, or contaminated?
Even if Chinese processing plants have passed a FSIS inspection in the past, what is to guarantee that such sanitary conditions and processing techniques would be the same when China begins processing poultry to be imported back to the United States?
Furthermore, without a country-of-origin label, how will U.S. consumers know whether or not the chicken or poultry product that they decide to purchase and consume came from China? And if no such labeling is required, then how else will U.S. consumers be able to make informed decisions about the chicken or poultry product that they put into their bodies?
In mid-2015, this issue was manifested online as a concern that American-based food companies were laying off workers in the U.S. in favor of shipping their chickens to China for processing, with the results to be re-shipped to the U.S. for sale here:
I just read Tyson is firing 100K workers and sending its chicken overseas to China to be cleaned and packaged and then returned for sale in the United States?
Have you all heard about Tyson? Cutting 75,000 jobs & sending their chicken to China from the United States to be processed in China. Then sent back to America to be sold? BOYCOTT!!
Tyson company is sending Chicken to China to be processed and returned to US for sale.
In substance, these rumors echoed another issue from the same timeframe regarding the acquisition of Smithfield Foods by a Chinese company, Shuanghui International Holdings, which led to similar claims that U.S.-raised hogs would be shipped to China, slaughtered and packaged for sale there, and sent back to the U.S.
Although the August 2013 FSIS report theoretically paved the way for China to process U.S.-raised chickens and ship them back to America, processing giant Tyson Foods told us they are not shipping poultry to China and then re-importing it as claimed in the examples reproduced above:
All of the chicken we sell in the U.S. is raised and processed here in the U.S. The posts being shared on social media channels are a hoax. We have no plans to cut jobs or process chicken in China to be returned to the U.S.
It’s unclear that such activity is actually taking place at all, even on a small scale, as the economics of shipping animals and processed meat products back and forth across the Pacific are questionable:
“To my knowledge,” Perkins said, “we haven’t received any information from any companies that are interested .”
Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, which represents chicken processors in the United States, doesn’t think there will be much demand for overseas processing.
“Economically, it doesn’t make much sense,” Super said. “Think about it: A Chinese company would have to purchase frozen chicken in the United States, pay to ship it 7,000 miles, unload it, transport it to a processing plant, unpack it, cut it up, process/cook it, freeze it, repack it, transport it back to a port, then ship it another 7,000 miles. I don’t know how anyone could make a profit doing that.”
A likelier scenario is that any chickens exported to China from America would be processed and sold there for domestic consumption (not reshipped to the U.S.), and China’s long-term goal is to export chickens raised and processed there to the U.S.:
The notion of sending American chicken to be processed in China and sent back, then, is an interim step in the larger business negotiation.
The tempest is just one move in a larger chess game between the two countries, Siegel said. “In 2003, when there was the scare of mad cow disease here, China closed its market to our beef. Ever since, we’ve been pushing to reopen that market, but first they want us to open our market to their chicken — raised and slaughtered in China.”
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The USDA is moving to open the U.S. border to Chinese chicken amid final talks between the two countries to wrap up a partial trade pact that is promised to result in China increasing its imports of U.S. ag commodities.
USDA will publish a final rule Friday that allows China to certify slaughter and processing facilities there to export chicken to the U.S.
Bloomberg is reporting that China is preparing to lift its four-year ban on U.S. chicken.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has conducted multiple audits of Chinese inspection protocols and facilities there, but the country has a long history of food safety problems, including contaminated dairy products and pet treats.
“The Trump administration is bowing to China at the expense of public health in America with his new poultry deal,” said Food & Water Action Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “In one fell swoop, this trade deal means that American families can serve contaminated chicken for dinner and not even know it.”
FSIS approval is less than adequate, according to Tony Corbo, a lobbyist with Food & Water Action, because the agency only approved the food safety system in two of China’s 23 provinces — Shandong and Anhui. Still, China will now be free to certify slaughterhouses and processors in any province and FSIS inspectors will only conduct audits later.
China will not initially be able to export raw chicken to the U.S. FSIS has approved it, but USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is blocking those shipments because of the ongoing outbreaks of avian influenza in China.
Chinese chicken, for now, must be fully cooked before it can be shipped to the U.S. because of the APHIS opposition.
But the USDA approval is a major win for China, which has been pushing the U.S. to approve the safety of its chicken for about 15 years. U.S. approval is much coveted by China after the numerous food safety scandals it has suffered.
Chinese chicken coming into the U.S. won’t have an origin label, but it also won’t be allowed into the school lunch program of federal feeding programs for kids because of a prohibition approved by Congress in the current appropriations legislation.
China isn’t expected to ship much chicken to the U.S., but if China follows through and lifts its ban on U.S. chicken, it is expected to spur hundreds of millions of dollars in trade.
“The opening of China — even if it was just for chicken paws alone … would increase the bottom line of U.S. chicken companies by $835 million per year,” U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council President Jim Sumner told Agri-Pulse in a recent interview.
While the Chinese love chicken paws, U.S. consumers generally do not. U.S. producers have been selling the paws to domestic renderers during the Chinese ban and getting about 5 cents per pound. That same product – about 1.5 billion pounds per year – sells for about 87 cents per pound when it can be sold to Chinese buyers.
For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com
Genuine General Tso’s chicken may soon be on the plate.
The Department of Agriculture will allow Chinese poultry processing companies to ship fully cooked, frozen and refrigerated chicken to the United States.
Food safety advocates have been predicting the announcement since the department last year approved the export of chicken raised in the United States to be processed in China. But shipping chicken to China for processing and then shipping it back here has proved uneconomical, and no American poultry firm has done so.
Earlier this year, a major meat supplier to McDonald’s got caught up in a food scandal after a Chinese television station broadcast video showing workers in its Shanghai plant doctoring labels on chicken and beef products and scooping up meat that had fallen on the ground and putting it back on conveyor belts for processing. The country has also had frequent outbreaks of deadly avian influenza, and the Food and Drug Administration attributed the deaths of more than 500 dogs and some cats to chicken jerky treats from China.
School lunch advocates have been especially worried about Chinese chicken potentially ending up on trays. Nancy Huehnergarth, a nutrition policy consultant, has noted that processed chicken does not require country of origin labeling and predicted that it would end up in chicken nuggets and chicken soup.