Chicken From China? Why You Should Be Worried

Here's why we're so concerned. ᅡᅠChina has an unusuallyᅡᅠtroubling record when it comes to food safety, as reported on by numerous media outlets.
01/16/2014 05:57 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2014

In March 2012 Iᅡᅠlaunched on The Lunch Trayᅡᅠaᅡᅠ 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. ᅡᅠTheᅡᅠpetition 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. ᅡᅠButᅡᅠin 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. ᅡᅠEarlier this week I launched that petition on, along with two respected food activists,ᅡᅠNancy HuehnergarthᅡᅠandᅡᅠBarbara Kowalcyk.

Here's the background.

In late August, the USDAᅡᅠannouncedᅡᅠthat itᅡᅠwill allowᅡᅠfour 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. ᅡᅠThe USDA's move isᅡᅠconsideredᅡᅠto beᅡᅠa 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 anᅡᅠexclusive reportᅡᅠin which I determined that USDA had significantly misled parents regarding the possible inclusion of Chinese-processed chicken in school meals. ᅡᅠIn response to my reporting, USDAᅡᅠeventually corrected its websiteᅡᅠto 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. ᅡᅠChina has an unusuallyᅡᅠtroubling record when it comes to food safety, as reported on by numerous media outlets:

  • Last year, according to news reports, a Chinese poultry supplier provided Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in China with chicken fattened byᅡᅠlarge quantities of illegal drugs.
  • Here in our own country, the FDA recentlyᅡᅠwarned pet ownersᅡᅠnot to feed their pets jerky treats from China. ᅡᅠSince 2007, approximatelyᅡᅠ600 dogs and cats in the United States have mysteriously died, and 3,600 have been sickened,ᅡᅠfrom eating Chinese pet treats containing chicken or duck.
  • 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, asᅡᅠmy reporting showed,ᅡᅠcan 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 alarmingᅡᅠis USDA's planᅡᅠto eventually allow chicken raised and slaughtered in China to be imported directly into the United States, despite the fact that:

    • AᅡᅠDecember 2013 USDA auditᅡᅠfound that China's poultry slaughter system isᅡᅠnotᅡᅠyet equivalent to that of the United States in terms of food safety practices.

  • TheᅡᅠNew York Timesᅡᅠreportedᅡᅠearlier 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 aᅡᅠbipartisan group of 14 federal lawmakers to submit aᅡᅠletterᅡᅠon these issues to the Agricultural Appropriations Committee, and SenatorsᅡᅠCharles Schumerᅡᅠ(D-NY) andᅡᅠSherrod Brownᅡᅠ(D-OH)ᅡᅠhave 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 petition asking Congress, President Obama and his administration toᅡᅠto keep Chinese-processed chicken out of school meals and other child nutrition programs, and to prevent the importation of Chinese-raised and -slaughtered poultry. ᅡᅠ(Barbara also appeared on the Dr. Oz show last month, along with Food Politics'ᅡᅠMarion Nestle, to discuss Chinese chicken -- watch the segmentᅡᅠhere.)

    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 officialsᅡᅠdoᅡᅠlisten when we join our voices together. ᅡᅠPlease lendᅡᅠyourᅡᅠsignature to this important effort to ensure the safety of our food. Thank you!