WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2017 - Groups for and against USDA’s proposal to allow China to export cooked chicken to the U.S. are weighing in with their opinions as the comment deadline ends today.
Poultry trade groups – the National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, and the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council – support the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s June 16 proposal, arguing that FSIS has used “sound science and appropriate risk assessment” in assessing China’s slaughter facilities and its inspection system.
“FSIS has conducted careful and systematic reviews and audits in compliance with U.S. law, and in a manner consistent with international norms,” the groups said in comments submitted today.
“Unfortunately, FSIS has at times received criticisms that its proposals to permit China to export to the U.S. market do not adequately protect the safety of U.S. consumers,” they continued. “Those criticisms are not, in our view, based on any scientific evidence or risk assessment; they are often political rhetoric, and typically advance stereotypical characterizations, not scientific fact.”
One of the most active groups leveling those criticisms is Food & Water Watch, which called the audit of Chinese facilities “contrived.”
The audit of the processing and slaughter inspection systems “is only of two provincial inspection systems that the (People’s Republic of China) selected and the audit report clearly states that the proposed rule will be based on this audit for the entire country,” FWW said.
“As past audits have shown, the PRC has had difficulty in ensuring that its provincial inspection offices are all rowing in the same direction,” FWW said. “By limiting FSIS to evaluating two provincial offices, the PRC has manipulated the review to demonstrate that at least those two can be consistent.”
A U.S. government source, however, told Agri-Pulse last month that the reason those two provinces were chosen was because of the presence of slaughter facilities seeking certification to export chicken to the U.S.
The trade groups said FSIS has earned the trust of Americans. “Every day we rely on FSIS – and on the cooperation and commitment of the companies that FSIS regulates – to ensure the safety of our meat and poultry products. U.S. meat and poultry products are safely sold each day in this country, and FSIS has earned our trust through many years of effective and rigorous regulation. If FSIS has determined after 13 years of careful consideration that these products from China are safe, we accept that judgment.”
The proposal would apply to cooked chicken because USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has classified the PRC as a region affected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza subtype H5N1 and Exotic Newcastle Disease.
FWW said in its comments that “there has been a resurgence of avian influenza outbreaks in the PRC. Outbreaks have occurred in the provinces from which the PRC proposes to export poultry products to the U.S. Some of the strains have been so virulent that humans have died from coming into contact with infected birds. According to press reports, there have been 281 fatalities associated with exposure to the diseased poultry since Oct. 1, 2016.”
The trade groups, however, said it’s important for the United States’ credibility as an international trading partner to meet its World Trade Organization obligations. The WTO requires importing countries to accept potential exporting countries’ food safety systems as “equivalent” if they “achieve the importing member's appropriate level of sanitary or phytosanitary protection,” according to WTO language.
“The United States should take great care in meeting its WTO obligations because we expect that China will also do so,” the trade groups said. “For example, when localized incidents of poultry diseases such as avian influenza occur, the U.S. has the capacity and the system to identify those incidents promptly and to take steps to ensure that the risk is controlled and that the virus does not spread. Under WTO rules, importing countries are obliged to recognize this and to permit imports from the disease-free regions of countries that can control diseases and limit their spread.”
The decision to allow Chinese poultry into the U.S. is widely seen as linked to China’s decision to allow the U.S. to export beef to China, long a goal of the American beef industry.
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