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Imported Cooked Chicken . . . Coming to a Store Near You?

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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Cooked chicken from China may soon be a mainstay in American grocery stores.

The U.S. federal government will soon allow imports of cooked chicken from China, which will give U.S. beef producers access to China’s market of almost 1.4 billion people. Import rules should be finalized by mid-July, giving the green light to American beef producers and Chinese exporters. 

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue hailed the agreement between China and the U.S. as “tremendous news for the American beef industry, the agriculture community and the U.S. economy in general.”

American beef has been locked out of the Chinese market since 2004 after mad cow disease cases popped up in the U.S. “We will once again have access to the enormous Chinese market, with a strong and growing middle class, which had been closed to our ranchers for a long, long time,” Perdue said.

Beef trade groups are naturally giddy with excitement. “We strongly welcome the announcement that an agreement has been made to restore U.S. beef exports to China,” Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in a statement. “It’s impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for America’s cattle producers. . . . We look forward to providing nearly 1.4 billion new customers in China with the same safe and delicious U.S. beef that we feed our families."

The U.S. Meat Export Federation appears equally thrilled. "The USMEF and its members greatly appreciate the efforts of the Trump administration and officials at USDA and USTR that made today’s announcement possible,” the trade association said in a statement. 

American chicken producers are also eying the changes, even though they mean more initial competition in the U.S. chicken market. American chicken is still banned in China following concerns about avian flu, but it might open up in the future given these market shifts. 

Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, told USA Today that opening up the Chinese market for U.S. chicken producers trumps concerns about Chinese competitors entering the markets stateside. “It’s more important for us get that market back,” he said. “We can’t produce enough chicken wings to satisfy demand here. So it’s all good. We’re glad to see it happen because our industry believes in free, open trade.”

Not everyone is glad that Americans will have access to Chinese cooked chicken. The food advocacy group Food and Water Watch “denounces this move, as it will put U.S. consumers at risk for illnesses from potentially unsafe food imports," executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement. The plan to allow Chinese poultry imports “stalled for years due to China’s long history of food safety problems and the dramatic differences between U.S. and Chinese food safety inspection systems,” she further claimed.

As much as half a million food safety violations were uncovered in China in the first three quarters of 2016, Reuters reported last December. The violations included rice found to contain heavy metals and baby formula with lethal amounts of melamine, an industrial chemical. Over 500,000 incidents of food safety violations were found by Chinese food safety departments.

The cooked chicken that will be imported into the U.S. will come from processing plants inspected by the Chinese government -- which “has struggled to create a regulatory system that protects public health,” Hauter said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service conducted “several additional audits that found problems with the Chinese poultry inspection system” since 2006, she explained.

A recent study found widespread contamination of Chinese poultry with drug resistant bacteria. Over 87 percent of the chicken sold in supermarkets in the Shandong province was contaminated by MCR-1, a superbug gene.

The American people deserve better than cooked chicken from a country with serious food safety problems. Opening up new markets for American farmers and ranchers is not worth exposing consumers to potentially contaminated chicken products.

Image credit: Flickr/Krista

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman