For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Jackie Filson, jfilson@fwwatch.org, 860-306-0108

Group Warns USDA May Be Quietly Trying to Outsource Chicken Processing to China

WASHINGTON - Food & Water Action warns that an email sent by the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on June 3, 2020, could point to a plan to outsource chicken processing to the People’s Republic of China as a means to circumvent U.S. inspection standards.

"The email, sent at 9:06 pm last Wednesday, contained a revised list of poultry plants in the PRC eligible to export products to the U.S. The list revealed that half of those plants are operated by U.S. based Cargill. The latest Cargill plant listed is a facility that can slaughter up to 225 birds per minute—nearly 30 percent higher than the current maximum here in the U.S.

In response, Tony Corbo, Sr. Government Affairs Representative for Food & Water Action, issued the following statement:

“As the current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, we are already beholden to the PRC for pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment.  Now, the next chicken nuggets that we buy may be from China and we won’t even know it because there is no country-of-origin labeling requirement.

“We have opposed granting equivalency to the PRC’s poultry inspection system since 2005, when the Bush Administration first proposed it, because the PRC has a long history of food safety problems and lack of transparency.  The PRC now seems to think that since it has certified plants that are operated by U.S. based companies, U.S. consumers should feel more comfortable consuming poultry products exported from the PRC.  However, as FSIS auditors found in 2018, the inspection system is still lacking, regardless of whether the plant is operated by a Chinese-based company or a company here.

“Cargill is not the only U.S. based company that has plants in the PRC; Tyson, Keystone and OSI also have plants in the PRC.  It is only a matter of time before the PRC starts to certify their plants to export to the U.S.  They all operate plants that pay their workers a fraction of what comparable U.S. workers receive; they all operate under lax or virtually non-existent food safety, environmental, and worker safety regulatory systems.

“And, don’t believe all of the anti-China rhetoric coming from the Trump Administration.  It has greased the skids for big multi-nationals to thrive in a dubious trade relationship with the PRC that continues to put U.S. consumers at risk.”

Background:

In 2006, FSIS under the George W. Bush Administration approved a rule that granted the PRC equivalency status for its poultry processing inspection system.[1] .  The approval of the rule was to entice the PRC to reopen imports of U.S. beef that it had stopped importing in 2004.  The rule meant that USDA found that the PRC’s inspection system for cooked poultry allegedly met our standards.  One restriction was placed on the products exported to the U.S. – the raw poultry to be cooked had to come from an “approved source.”  At the time, the “approved sources” were the U.S. and Canada.  The rule was derisively called “why did the chicken cross the Pacific twice?” rule.  The reasons for the restriction included that FSIS did not find that PRC’s slaughter inspection system met our standards and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was not satisfied with the PRC’s transparency and efforts to control outbreaks of highly pathological avian influenza in the PRC’s poultry flocks.

The PRC did not immediately identify plants that could export under the provisions of the 2006 rule.  It was not until 2014 that it did so, and all of the plants were Chinese owned.[2]  There were not exports under the 2006 rule until June 2017 when 110 pounds of cooked breaded chicken patties and nuggets were exported to the U.S. and the source of the raw poultry for those products came from Chile which has been added to the list of “approved sources.”[3]

In November 2019, FSIS under the Trump Administration finalized a rule that found the PRC’s poultry slaughter inspection system was allegedly equivalent to that of the U.S.[4]  While APHIS still placed restrictions on the use of domestic Chinese poultry to be used to export to the U.S., the Phase 1 U.S.-PRC Trade deal set up a process for APHIS to clear certain regions of the PRC of highly pathogenic avian influenza.[5]

When FSIS last visited the Cargill plant newly certified to export to the U.S., the agency’s auditors found the following:

“Ongoing verification records documenting the calibration of processing instruments (thermometers used in association with monitoring the temperature of carcasses leaving the chill tank for CCP2) did not include the specific time the activity occurred.

In addition, FSIS identified the following findings related to the implementation of China's poultry inspection system:

“The FSIS auditors observed that government inspectors were not conducting proper post-mortem inspection of poultry carcasses. Inspectors were not manually reflecting the flap (pulling the cut skin and muscle back) from the opening cut and observing the inner surfaces of the carcass. Observing the inner surfaces of the carcass is important to identify conditions such as inflammatory process; airsacculitis; tumors; enlarged or reddened kidneys (infection or early sepsis); ascites; or extensive contamination. The FSIS auditors also identified deficiencies related to the configuration of the post-mortem inspection stations at this location. The particular configuration of the evisceration line was such that it would be difficult for manual manipulation of the flap to actually occur, i.e. the birds were presented out of reach of the inspector. There was no continuous flow faucet (or other means) to indicate that the inspectors would be able to wash their hands on an as-needed basis.”[6]

These findings illustrate that there are still serious  issues with the PRC’s slaughter inspection system. 

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