Years-old USDA rule allows China to process US poultry

The claim: USDA preparing to ship chicken to China for processing, then send it back to the United States

Nearly 10 years ago, the Department of Agriculture gave the green light to Chinese processing plants to process raw poultry from the United States and export cooked products – such as canned chicken noodle soup and chicken nuggets – to America.

Nonetheless, some social media posts claim that China is set to deliver processed American chickens to America for the first time.

“The USDA is preparing to ship our chicken to China for processing and then send it back to us. WHY?????” reads a July 2 Facebook post that has been shared more than 400 times in three days.

But this statement is misleading. A handful of Chinese processing plants have been allowed to use US-raised raw poultry and export cooked products for years.

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USA TODAY has reached out to the user who shared the complaint for comment.

Chinese facilities have been eligible to process US chicken for nearly a decade

China has been able to process chicken from the United States since 2013, when four chicken processors were allowed to export cooked poultry products from birds raised in the United States, Canada and Chile. Politico and The New York Times have raised concerns about Chinese chicken exports reaching the US market, with the latter reporting that the country “doesn’t have the best food safety record”.

Under the rules, chicken processed in China would not require country-of-origin labeling, which means consumers would not know “if the chicken is from Chinese processing plants,” according to the Times.

In 2017, the rules were changed and the first known shipment of cooked chicken from poultry raised in China arrived in the United States, according to the Washington Post. It came after a trade deal, backed by then-President Donald Trump, to send more American beef to China while receiving more Chinese poultry in the United States, the Post reported.

In a July 8 email to USA TODAY, a spokesperson for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said rigorous standards are used when inspecting food from China. . “The FSIS process for ensuring the safety of imported meat, poultry and egg products is rigorous and requires the exporting country to have an equivalent food safety inspection system, which means it achieves a level of public health protection equivalent to FSIS’s robust inspection system,” the spokesperson said.

Fact check: Smithfield Foods does not sell slaughtered and processed meat in China

China’s poultry feed safety system received the “equivalent” designation in 2019, when the USDA said a review of the country’s poultry laws and regulations found them to be “equivalent to the Act on Poultry Products Inspection (PPIA), the regulations implementing this law, and the United States Poultry Food Safety System.

As part of the equivalence decision, which the spokesperson said came after “extensive documentation” and audits, China was also allowed to export chicken products processed from slaughtered birds and transformed into “certified”. [Chinese] establishments. »

A USDA report indicates that China exported more than 50 metric tons of prepared or preserved chicken meat to the United States in 2021. The report did not specify how much, if any, of this amount came from birds raised and slaughtered in the United States. , sent to China for processing and returned to the country.

As of June 2, four processing plants were eligible to export cooked poultry products to the United States, with the most recent being added to the USDA list in May 2020.

National Chicken Council spokesman Tom Super described the Facebook post as “fake news” in a July 12 email to USA TODAY. Super said “no shipments of American chicken were sent to China to be processed and returned here.”

“It doesn’t make economic sense to do so, especially in light of record high input costs and exorbitant shipping and freight costs,” Super said.

Our opinion: Missing context

Based on our research, we assess MISSING CONTEXT the claim that the USDA is preparing to ship chicken to China for processing and then return it to the United States. In 2013, several Chinese facilities were approved to export poultry products from chickens raised in the United States to the United States. The regulations were expanded years later to include chickens slaughtered in China.

Our fact-checking sources:

  • Tom Super July 12 email USA TODAY
  • USDA, July 8, email to USA TODAY
  • USDA, June 2, People’s Republic of China – Eligible Plants Certified to Export Meat and Poultry to the United States
  • USDA, July 27, 2021, Poultry and Commodities Annual Report for China
  • USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, November 8, 2019, People’s Republic of China (PRC) Eligibility to Export Poultry Products from Birds Slaughtered in the PRC to the United States
  • The Washington Post, July 7, 2017, The dark side of Trump’s high-profile trade deal with China: It could literally make you sick
  • Akron Beacon Journal, October 25, 2013, Ruling Opens Door to US Chicken Sales from China
  • Politico, August 30, 2013, Audit Clears Chinese Poultry Factories
  • The New York Times, August 30, 2013 Chinese chicken processors allowed to ship to US

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