DeLauro: Keep Chinese chicken ban

Source of Article:


Jerry Hagstrom,Agweek
Published: 08/03/2009

WASHINGTON — Congress should maintain a ban on the importation of chicken from China, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said July 28.

DeLauro also said the Agriculture Department should consider revising its system for declaring meat and poultry food safety systems of other governments “equivalent” to the U.S. system and foreign products eligible for importation.

“I’ll collect ideas on how to deal with Chinese chicken in the short term and equivalency in the long term,” DeLauro told reporters after a hearing at which critics and defenders of the equivalency system testified.

Banned chicken

The House-passed fiscal year 2010 ag appropriations bills contains a continuation of a ban that has been in effect since 2007 when DeLauro became concerned about the safety of the Chinese chicken that the Bush administration proposed to import.

The Senate Appropriations Committee-passed version of the fiscal year 2010 ag appropriations bill contains a measure that would allow the chicken imports if USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and China meet certain requirements, but DeLauro said the House provision should prevail because the Senate provision would allow the importation to go into effect under an equivalency system that she now considers flawed.

DeLauro presented a 2004 USDA inspection report of Chinese chicken slaughter and processing plants that showed grease, blood, fat and foreign particles in one plant and so many food safety deficiencies in another plant that the inspector wrote that if the establishment ever were certified to export to the United States, “it would be immediately delisted.”

DeLauro said USDA had proceeded with a rule to allow the importation of Chinese chicken, even though the inspection reports were negative, because the Bush administration wanted to convince the Chinese to restore the importation of U.S. beef, which it had stopped after the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States in 2003. China has not restored U.S. beef imports.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller recently said the chicken ban is making all agriculture negotiations with the Chinese difficult. DeLauro has said repeatedly that trade issues should not trump food safety.

Food safety before trade

DeLauro said she did not ask USDA to testify because President Obama has not nominated an undersecretary for food safety, but that after that person is confirmed, there will be another hearing.

“We are waiting very patiently. And then do I have questions for that person,” DeLauro said.

Richard Raymond, who served as agriculture undersecretary for food safety during the Bush administration from 2005 to 2008 when the administration put forward the Chinese chicken rule, was present at the hearing, but DeLauro rejected the suggestion by House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Jack Kingston, R-Ga., that Raymond testify.

After the hearing, Raymond told reporters that the rulemaking process at USDA for a rule on importing U.S. and Canadian chicken processed in China been proper, but acknowledged that it had gone through the Office of Management and Budget very quickly. He added that the real issue is the importation of processed Chinese-grown chicken, which USDA was considering when Congress stopped the rulemaking process.

Kevin Brosch, a former USDA attorney and trade negotiator, who now represents a coalition of 39 pro-trade agriculture groups including chicken, turkey, beef and pork producers, said Congress should leave the Chinese chicken issue up to USDA because the current ban on USDA conducting a risk assessment on Chinese poultry violates World Trade Organization rules. But he said his coalition is not lobbying for how USDA would decide whether the Chinese food safety system is equivalent to the U.S. system.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, and Wenonah Hunter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, testified that USDA’s equivalency rule is too lenient and that USDA should rewrite it. Wallach and Hunter also noted that Japan and the European Union do import Chinese chicken, but said they have much stricter rules and their own inspectors in China to make sure cleanliness standards are imposed.



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