New USDA Policy Will Expand Chinese Poultry Imports

For Immediate Release

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Contact: 

Anna Ghosh, aghosh(at)fwwatch(dot)org, 415-293-9905 or
Darcey Rakestraw, drakestraw(at)fwwatch(dot)org, 202-683-2467.

New USDA Policy Will Expand Chinese Poultry Imports

Change in Policy Catches Attention of Member of House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee

WASHINGTON - On the heels of the recent visit to Washington by China’s President
Hu Jintao, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
published an interim rule yesterday in the Federal Register that opens
the door to poultry and poultry product imports from countries that have
experienced outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza, including
animals raised in the People’s Republic of China.

Chinese poultry product imports will not be immediately permitted
since USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) must still
approve the poultry slaughtering procedures in China. But the
announcement of today’s rule clears a major hurdle in that process.

In April 2006, during President Hu Jintao’s last visit to Washington,
USDA announced the approval of regulations that would permit the
importation of cooked poultry products from China, provided that the raw
poultry came from an approved source, primarily poultry slaughter
facilities in the United States or Canada. However, no poultry products –
cooked or otherwise – have been imported from China because in 2008 and
2009, the U.S. Congress blocked the implementation of regulations that
would permit the importation. In addition to the import of processed
poultry that were raised somewhere else, China has made it clear they
wanted USDA approval for imports of poultry products made from
Chinese-origin poultry.

Emails obtained by Food & Water Watch in response to a Freedom of
Information Act request reveal that concerns expressed by APHIS
regarding the presence of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian
influenza in Chinese poultry flocks were the reason the agency would not
approve poultry product imports from China that were processed from
poultry of Chinese origin.

“Today’s announcement is totally astounding,” said Wenonah Hauter,
executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The sudden reversal of
the APHIS position smacks of political pressure taking over at USDA –
just like it did in 2006. Regardless of who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue, trade always seems to trump consumer protection,” Hauter added.

“The timing of this announcement is particularly troubling
considering the recent state visit from China,” said Congresswoman Marcy
Kaptur (D-OH), a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations
Subcommittee. “Department of Agriculture officials should have the
safety of American consumers as their primary concern and should not be
susceptible to pressure from the United States Trade Representative. I
intend to hold USDA accountable for the questionable timing of this
announcement when they testify before our subcommittee this year.”

“Just last week, Food & Water Watch filed a Citizen’s Petition
with USDA’s FSIS to void the 2006 regulations based on serious
procedural errors made during the process to include China on the list
of approved importers,” added Hauter. “Yesterday’s decision by APHIS to
reverse course when it comes to avian flu is another hapless mistake to
add to USDA’s tally that puts consumers’ health and safety in the
balance.”

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

The interim final rule went into effect January 24, but the agency is taking public comment on the rule until March 25, 2011.

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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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