Why is the US Shipping Chicken to China for Processing and Back for Consumption?
Shipping chicken from the US to China to be processed and back
to the US for consumption could happen soon. Of course, this makes no economic
sense for Americans who presently hold these jobs but it does have all the
hallmarks of corporate greed gone hog wild – and free trade agreements (by our
government) that are made in secret behind closed doors.
It appears that Tyson Foods is behind some of the hoopla. But to understand it clearly, you have to look back.
Understanding Shipping Chicken to China for Processing and It’s Origins
In 2006, the USDA submitted a list of regulations to the White House focused on aiding China to get into the US chicken market by certifying Chinese facilities to process poultry raised in the US back for resale in the US.
This decision was watched closely by the nonprofit organization Food and Water Watch because of China’s notoriously filthy track record. Authorities in China had already identified insecticide soaked hams, soy sauce made from human hair, and fake milk powder that caused megalencephaly (big head disease). Normally, such a decision would take years to come into play but the very next day, the White House approved the measure. The following morning, GW Bush got a visit from Hu Jintao, China’s president at the time. One could only conclude that the measure was a gift of some kind but for what, we are still unsure.
Soon after, USDA inspectors approved Chinese poultry plants for processing, but food contamination issues persisted – fish was found to be tainted by antibiotics and vegetables were covered in pesticides. Congress completely defunded the USDA’s poultry inspections of Chinese imports – Chinese recertification lapsed but then China appealed to the WTO (world trade organization), which ruled against the US. Funding was restored, and the process of approval began again. A series of USDA audits ensued, which found that China was unfit to process US poultry. Then in 2013, the agency granted four Chinese plants certification.
China has a long, dark record of food contamination – meat that glows in the dark, bean sprouts containing antibiotics, mushrooms soaked in bleach, and ham that contained stimulants. In 2007, more than 1000 dogs died in the US after eating Chinese pet food that contained poultry. So why is shipping chicken to China on the table?
According to Sumner (president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, a nonprofit, industry-sponsored trade organization) who visited USDA-approved processing plants in China and would “put them up against any I’ve seen anywhere” in terms of cleanliness — "the biggest if not only advantage would be cost of labor". Compared with fish, getting chicken from ‘farm to table’ requires far less labor, so labor-savings hands down beats the expense of shipping chickens back and forth across the ocean. And China agrees that "this trade is not economical".
In 2014, months before the USDA approved four processing plants in China, of the four major chicken companies (including Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms, and Perdue), only Tyson lobbied the USDA "for market access for chicken in China". When asked about the agreement, Tyson told a Newsweek reporter that "All of the chicken we sell in the U.S. is raised and processed here in the U.S. We have no plans to import chicken from China." What? Something smells foul right?
Since corporations are not required to disclose details for reasons supporting specific issues, no one can be sure why Tyson insists on shipping chicken to China for processing. However, in an email to Newsweek, Tyson said that lobbying efforts reported in 2013 were made around trade and tariff issues for the export of US produced products to China – and unrelated to the import of poultry products produced there. In 2009, 50 large beef and poultry corporations sent a letter of request to President Obama – asking him for the support of "regulation governing the importation of cooked poultry products from China," (chicken nuggets) - advocating open markets for international trade.
When asked about the USDA’s ruling, people in the beef and chicken industries, as well as food activists and Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, (who is fighting to keep Chinese-processed chickens out of school lunches), all told Newsweek that "it’s all about the beef".
How the US Beef Industry Relates to the Chicken Industry
The beef industry’s interest in Chinese chickens dates back to 2003, when mad cow disease was diagnosed in Yakima, Washington. Many countries were quick to respond including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, China and a score of other countries. They all banned American beef. In time, all of these governments reversed their bans except for China.
It is now widely believed that the beef ban is simply a tactic for China to gain access to the U.S. chicken market. A report in 2007 issued by the FDA indicates that the country would much rather sell its own chickens in the US and they’re holding the US beef industry hostage to do it. The problem is that because the USDA has the "dual mission to promote U.S. products and safety", it is easily swayed by tactics such as these. DeLauro said: "When it comes to the USDA, it’s all about trade trumping safety. It’s all about profits. It’s pretty outrageous".
China’s beef consumption has grown and is expected to keep rising. In response, Canada’s beef exports to China have multiplied six times; Australia by four times; meanwhile, the U.S. still can’t send its beef to China.
For the U.S. meat industry, the appeal of the shipping chicken to China trade is clear. Profits from the potential exportation of beef to China, far exceed the potential losses in giving up a share of the American chicken shipping market. The motive for China selling its chickens in America is less clear until you look more closely at Tyson Foods.
A Closer Look at Tyson Foods
Tyson has been instrumental in helping China attain "equivalency status' to the USA in processing poultry and thereby, China is legally allowed for processing and shipping chicken to the US. Restaurants that serve Chinese processed chicken do not have to tell it's consumers. Tyson already has three processing plants in China but shipping chicken to the US hasn't happened yet but it's all just a matter of time.
Tyson and the American Meat Institute have clearly demonstrated that they are not invested in the country of origin labeling, which means they can ultimately package any combination of meats together and from any country to maximize their profit margins.
In the past 6 years, Tyson closed numerous poultry plants in the US and more will continue to close in the future. It is evident that their international interests trump American investments.
Activists worry that giving China access to the U.S. chicken market — either to process American-raised poultry or eventually sell its own — is dangerous business, given the Chinese government’s poor track record enforcing food safety regulations.
What Can You Do?
The first thing you can do is boycott Tyson Foods. In other words, just don't buy their products, especially their chicken nuggets which are processed crap! I recently saw a Tyson Foods commercial on TV - which basically said they're a family company interested in your well being. HA! I wanted to throw up! Organic chicken is your best bet but Perdue also promises that their chicken's are raised without antibiotics - so at least that's something. Lets give Tyson Foods the old heave-ho so they can become an international company - with far fewer holdings in the US.
It is evident that shipping chicken to China makes no economic sense to most Americans, but then again, most of us don't have insider information from BIG CORPA. But you can be certain that this trade is being watched very closely by advocacy groups and nonprofits. You can also bet that in the coming months and even years, more evidence of foul play will come into light.
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