The Insanity of Importing Chinese Poultry

In 2006, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) submitted a list of regulations to the White House aimed at helping China get into the U.S. chicken market by certifying Chinese facilities to process U.S.-raised poultry for sale back in the States.

Tony Corbo, a lobbyist at the nonprofit public interest organization Food and Water Watch, followed the decision closely, because food processing in China was notoriously poor. Chinese authorities had identified insecticide-soaked hams, soy sauce made from human hair and, in 2004, fake milk powder that gave babies the sometimes fatal “big head disease” (so named because it caused their heads to swell and bodies to wither). Normally, Corbo says, such a decision from the White House could take “months if not years” to come through. But just one day later, the White House gave its approval. Corbo was puzzled until, the following morning, China’s president at the time, Hu Jintao, visited then U.S. president George W. Bush in Washington, D.C. “[The approval] was a gift,” Corbo concluded. But for what, exactly, wasn’t clear.

After the ruling, USDA inspectors went to China and determined that Chinese poultry plants were eligible to process U.S. chickens. But food problems persisted in the country. Before the year was out, people in China were sickened by fish tainted with illegal antibiotics, vegetables covered in pesticides, snails infected with meningitis and poultry carrying the avian flu virus. Congress voted to completely defund the USDA’s poultry inspections of Chinese imports.

Soon China’s certification lapsed, but it appealed to the World Trade Organization, which ruled in 2009 that Congress’s treatment of the country was unfair. Funding was restored and the process of approval began again. A series of USDA audits followed, all of which found China unfit to process U.S. poultry. Then, in 2013, without further inspection, the agency granted four Chinese plants certification. “It seems China is continually getting to the head of the line,” Corbo says.

Between 2006 and 2014, China’s food industry continued to scare people. As Representative Christopher Smith, R-New Jersey, noted in a June 2014 hearing on Chinese food issues, the country produced “meat that glows in the dark, exploding watermelons, bean sprouts containing antibiotics, rice contaminated with heavy metals, mushrooms soaked with bleach, and pork so filled with stimulants that athletes were told not to eat it lest they test positive for banned substances.” Since 2007, more than a 1,000 dogs in the U.S. have died after eating Chinese-made pet food containing poultry. “[The FDA has] tested for all the pathogens they know of,” says Barbara Kowalcyk, the Senior Food Safety Risk Analyst at RTI International, a nonprofit research organization. “There is something in there causing dogs to die. It’s baffled officials here in the U.S. for years. Why on earth would we allow it to come into the U.S. for human consumption?” …

Can we call it fascism yet?

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