The idea is ludicrous at first, but then terrifying: chickens would be raised and slaughtered in the U.S., then shipped more than 6,000 miles to China to be processed, and finally shipped back to the U.S. for consumption.
This is what the Obama administration proposed. However, according to news reports — at least as of a few months ago — none of the major U.S. chicken producers had begun shipping their birds to China for processing, but the possibility that they might eventually do so remains.
Could the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration ensure that chicken processing facilities would be properly inspected in China? According to a Huffington Post article, U.S. personnel do not normally conduct inspections of food processing companies in other countries.
“The USDA’s last audit of the four Chinese facilities in question was back in March, 2013 – almost two years ago.” Ergo, we must trust the Chinese government’s assurances toward site health and safety diligence.
Additionally, in a release on November 5th, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection service approved four locations for the processed chicken pilgrimage and said “FSIS will reinspect any product exported by the four establishments when it is brought to a United States port before it will be allowed into domestic commerce.”
But let’s face it — the chickens are to be processed in facilities located in what are reportedly some of the most polluted areas of the world. Regardless of how organically or humanely the chicken was raised in the U.S., it’s meaningless after a journey like that.
Ostensibly, the only explanation for this extremely roundabout voyage is the cost of labor.
Chinese companies can pay workers $1 to $2 an hour as opposed to the “exorbitant” $12.44 an hour U.S. workers average. And as unlikely as it sounds, the chicken that sojourned to China would still — theoretically — arrive in U.S stores at a lower price than the 100 percent domestic chicken. This might be possibly as well if they can bypass the tariffs levied upon most imported goods.
But common sense tells us that the more hands that touch your food, the greater its exposure to potential contamination. And this chicken would be many times more exposed than its domestic counterpart. It’s hardly cynical to say that this is a case of profits before health and safety.
Congresswoman Rosa Delauro, D-Conn., has introduced a bill, H.R. 2152: Safe Chicken and Meat for Children Act, that would ensure no chicken processed in China would find its way into school lunches. The bill should go further and simply prohibit the practice.
Circuitous trade arrangements like these, as DeLauro and others have suggested, all appear to serve a quid pro quo agenda of both nations: China gets a piece of the U.S. poultry market in the hopes it will lift the ban it’s had on U.S. beef since 2003 when a cow in Washington state was discovered to have BSE (Mad Cow Disease). Thankfully, at this time no U.S. poultry producers have taken advantage of this circumvention of American labor, but that green light is still there for them to go ahead at any time.
American consumers are handicapped by a number things. One is a short attention span. The Chinese food industry has had a number of scandals over the years, from Melamine tainted infant formula to toxic pet food, yet the American public tends to assume these issues have been dealt with sufficiently once they’re no longer a part of the news cycle. From this perspective it’s difficult to see these stories as interrelated, but they all tell the same story of a Chinese system incapable of ensuring the integrity of the food it produces.
Another thing handicapping us is an overall ignorance and pervasive indifference of how our food gets to our tables and the subsidies we, as taxpayers, have paid to get it there.
Perhaps the most maddening, overarching fact is that the U.S. is capable of feeding its own population entirely with homegrown crops and livestock. We are one of the few nations capable of self-sufficiency. China, on the other hand, is the top agricultural producer in the world, yet still can’t produce enough food for all its people and is utterly dependent upon imported food.
[Carl Bloom and Brian Parker are researchers and producers for OnTheHORN.com: the Hartford Online Radio Network, LLC]