October 29, 2011
US consumer groups, meat industry in dispute over China's poultry imports
A coalition of consumer safety organisations urged the USDA to defy pressure from domestic meat industry groups which want to expedite the import of processed poultry from China.
Earlier this month, a broad coalition of meat industry groups pushed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make progress on allowing processed poultry imports from China when he travels to Beijing in December for the US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT).
A USDA rule that would allow imports of poultry processed in China but slaughtered in the US or Canada has been stalled since 2006. The industry groups view progress on the rule as a trade-off for China opening its market to US beef, pork and poultry exports, all of which are restricted by different measures.
However, in an October 24 letter to Vilsack, the consumer safety organisations rejected this argument and urged the Agriculture secretary to first ensure that opening up the US market to Chinese poultry would not pose health risks.
"Enhancing trade opportunities should not come at the expense of food safety and protecting public health," they wrote. A USDA audit of Chinese facilities in December 2010, the results of which were made public on October 6, "prove that significant work remains for China to achieve equivalency with our system," they added. "We are urging you and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service to proceed cautiously and deliberately with regard to the equivalency status of the People's Republic of China to export processed poultry products to the US," the groups wrote.
The letter was signed by the Centre for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, Centre for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Food & Water Watch, National Consumers League and STOP Foodborne Illness.