Chicken Icon with Chinese flag.

It looks like the USDA pulled what my father would call “a fast one.” The agency waited for the  Friday before the long Labor Day weekend — when most Americans were already in holiday mode — to announce they had lifted the ban on chicken products imported from China. As if that weren’t startling news enough, not only is China’s processed chicken coming to our tables, but you and I won’t know it. None of the chicken that lands in our soups and salads and nuggets will be labeled “made in China.” 

All the chickens will be raised and slaughtered in the US or Canada and because the chicken will only be processed in China, no country-of-origin labeling will be legally required. This convoluted journey raises still another red flag. The more food is fooled around with, the longer and more complicated the journey from source to plate, the greater the chance of contamination. And it’s hard to imagine chickens being raised in cramped, chicken factories in the US, butchered by the boatload and packed and shipped thousands of miles away, then shipped BACK again won’t be infected with troublesome bacteria somewhere along the way.

Initially only four Chinese factories will have the honor of processing American Chickens.  These factories were inspected by the USDA in March — SIX long months ago. AND that’s it! Not a single USDA inspector will check these sites during the actual processing. For anyone  who has kept up with China’s alarming food scandals, this is not exactly thrilling news. This year alone, thousands of dead pigs floated along Shanghai waters, rat meat was sold as lamb, and ANOTHER bird flu virus broke out in their poultry markets.

Only a year ago I wrote about a food failure that in fact concerned Chinese chicken, this time for pets. Barred from exporting chicken for human consumption since 2004 after an outbreak of bird flu virus, China still exported processed chicken products for dogs. And Some of these dogs died or were sickened after eating chicken jerky treats manufactured by factories in China. (Are Chicken Jerky Treats Killing our Dogs?)

 China’s dismal food manufacturing track record and indifference to food safety is well documented. (Meat that Glows in the Dark Perfectly Safe to Eat.) In 2008 six babies died and 300,000 were sickened (some with kidney stones) by milk contaminated with industrial chemical melamine. Add to that  arsenic-laced soy sauce, plaster tofu, mushrooms treated with fluorescent bleach; bean sprouts tainted with sodium nitrite, fake wine, phony eggs and imitation fish. And let us not forget their ever resourceful use of “sewer oil” retrieved from drains beneath restaurants  to recycle for the purpose of frying food over and over and over again.

In a letter and petition sent to the USDA, Food and Water Watch stated that Chinese food safety measures were not up to US standards and our government’s primary objective was placating China into lifting their ban on US beef shipments, which went into effect in 2003 after a case of mad cow disease surfaced in Washington State.

In reply, the USDA said the petition, ”Does not contain evidence to demonstrate that [China] should be removed from the list of countries eligible to export processed poultry products to the United States.”

Right, and cows have wings.

I give the last word to Rep. Rosa De Lauro from my first home state of Conn. She said, “The [USDA] audit released today erases neither the fact that past inspections revealed unsanitary conditions at China’s poultry processing plants nor the fact that US 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.”

 More on Food and Events in China