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U.S. Proposal To Allow Chicken Imports From China Raises Health Concerns

10 May 2007

WASHINGTON - In China, some farmers try to maximize the output from their small plots by flooding produce with unapproved pesticides, pumping livestock with antibiotics banned in other countries and using human feces as fertilizer to increase soil productivity.

But the questionable practices do not end there: Chicken pens are frequently suspended over ponds where seafood is raised, recycling chicken waste as a food source for seafood, according to a leading food safety expert who served as adviser to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Suspect Chinese agricultural practices could soon affect consumers in the United States. Government authorities are working on a proposal to allow chickens raised, slaughtered, and cooked in China to be sold in the United States, and under current regulations, store labels do not have to indicate the origin of the poultry.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, China's top agricultural export goal is opening the U.S. market to its cooked chickens.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat of Connecticut who is fighting the change, says that China does not deserve entry to the coveted, closed poultry market.

Agricultural exports from China to the United States ballooned from $1 billion in 2002 to nearly $2.3 billion in 2006, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. DeLauro, head of an agricultural subcommittee in the House of Representatives, said Congress should signal its willingness to restrict imports from China until Beijing improved food safety oversight.

"There is deception," DeLauro said. "There is lax regulation, and they've got unsanitary conditions. They need to hear from us they're at risk. Congress has to look at limiting some of their agricultural imports."

The USDA, which shares food safety oversight with the FDA, says that its proposal to allow the sale of Chinese chicken is in the early stages and that there will be many opportunities for the public to be heard on the matter. Under the plan, any country seeking to export meat, poultry, or egg products to the United States must earn "equivalency," with documentation that its product is as safe and wholesome as the domestic competition.

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Source: International Herald Tribune





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