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Chicken From China? Why You Should Be Worried

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In March 2012 I launched on The Lunch Tray a Change.org petition seeking to remove lean, finely textured beef ("LFTB," more widely known as "pink slime") from the ground beef procured by the USDA for the National School Lunch Program.  The petition garnered over a quarter of a million signatures in just a few days and ultimately led the USDA to change its policy, allowing school districts for the first time to opt out of receiving beef containing LFTB.

Though I've since been asked by activists and concerned readers to start petitions on other food-related issues, I didn't want to exhaust your goodwill by urging you take action on one issue after another, no matter how important each individual cause might be.  But in the past few months I've been learning about a particular food safety issue and believe that an online petition is urgently needed to address it.  Earlier this week I launched that petition on Change.org, along with two respected food activists, Nancy Huehnergarth and Barbara Kowalcyk.

Here's the background.

In late August, the USDA announced that it will allow four Chinese facilities to process poultry raised and slaughtered in the United States, Chile or Canada, and then export the cooked poultry products back into the United States.  The USDA's move is considered to be a preliminary step toward eventually allowing China to export its own raw poultry into this country, in exchange for China's opening up its lucrative beef market to American beef producers.

A few weeks later, I posted on The Lunch Tray an exclusive report in which I determined that USDA had significantly misled parents regarding the possible inclusion of Chinese-processed chicken in school meals.  In response to my reporting, USDA eventually corrected its website to admit (in a rather convoluted fashion) that such chicken could in fact appear on school lunch trays and in other federal child nutrition programs.

Since that time, I've been honored to work with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and a coalition of other legislators, food safety experts and food activists regarding both Chinese-processed chicken in school meals and the prospect of Chinese-raised and slaughtered chickens eventually reaching our supermarkets and schools.

Here's why we're so concerned.  China has an unusually troubling record when it comes to food safety, as reported on by numerous media outlets:

Yet, despite these concerns:

  • Chinese facilities which process chicken for consumption in the U.S. will not have on-site USDA inspectors to ensure food safety.
  • Chinese-processed chicken will not have to bear "Country Of Origin Labeling," which means that consumers will not know if they are purchasing or eating chicken processed in China.
  • Chinese-processed chicken, as my reporting showed, can be used in school meals and other federal child nutrition programs, despite the fact that children are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illnesses and dangerous chemicals.

Even more alarming is USDA's plan to eventually allow chicken raised and slaughtered in China to be imported directly into the United States, despite the fact that:

  • December 2013 USDA audit found that China's poultry slaughter system is not yet equivalent to that of the United States in terms of food safety practices.
  • The New York Times reported earlier this month that toxic soil and water pollution in some areas of China is causing growing concern over the safety of food produced in that country.
  • Bloomberg News reported that at a press conference last summer, one of China's own food safety officials essentially admitted that his country can't meet the food safety standards of more developed nations.

Last month, Representative DeLauro led a bipartisan group of 14 federal lawmakers to submit a letter on these issues to the Agricultural Appropriations Committee, and Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have also sounded the alarm on Chinese chicken.

In support of these lawmakers' efforts and to express our own dismay -- as mothers, consumers and food activists -- regarding these developments, Nancy, Barbara and I have launched a Change.org petition asking Congress, President Obama and his administration to to keep Chinese-processed chicken out of school meals and other child nutrition programs, and to prevent the importation of Chinese-raised and -slaughtered poultry.  (Barbara also appeared on the Dr. Oz show last month, along with Food Politics' Marion Nestle, to discuss Chinese chicken -- watch the segment here.)

I hope you'll take a moment to sign this petition and then use Facebook, Twitter (hashtag: #chinesechicken) and email to share it with friends and family.

As I learned from my 2012 petition, our governmental officials do listen when we join our voices together.  Please lend your signature to this important effort to ensure the safety of our food. Thank you!

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