If you’re like most people, you probably view chicken as a healthier meat option than beef. In fact, in 2013, for the first time ever, chicken was consumed more than beef in the United States. So in the consumers’ eyes, chicken is the healthier alternative.
But did you know that in September 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that it would allow chickens that are raised and slaughtered in the United States to be shipped to China for processing, and then shipped back to be sold to U.S. consumers? Will you still think this chicken is a healthy choice?
In the recent past, the media has highlighted problems with numerous Chinese manufacturers. You might remember the Chinese baby formula fiasco, where the Chinese factory deliberately used a toxic product in their baby formula manufacturing to lower costs. Thousands of children around the world got sick and six in the U.S. died. And that’s just one example of a problem with Chinese manufacturing of consumables.
However, many people don’t realize that every day we eat and drink items made and processed in China. For example, between 2008 and 2011, Chinese imports of apple juice made up two-thirds of all of the apple juice sold in the United States. One-third of the garlic we consume is from China. And get this: 80% of the tilapia we consume is from China.
Since chicken is a mainstay in the U.S. diet, why would the USDA say that it’s okay for U.S. producers to have their chicken processed in China and shipped back to the United States? The answer is: It is a way to open up the Chinese market for U.S. beef, because beef sales are down. To appease the beef producers so they can sell their product in China, the USDA had to “open the door,” so to speak, and allow Chinese manufacturers to process our chicken.
One other thing to note is that the chicken re-entering the U.S. is not required to have any special labeling saying that it was processed in China, even if the chicken is labeled as “organic.” Now let’s think about that. If the chicken is raised organically (fed the right diet, administered no hormones or antibiotics, etc.) and then it’s processed in China and shipped back the U.S., could it still have an organic label on it? Yes, it could. But is that the type of product consumers are expecting? The answer, of course, is no.
While I understand the “why” behind the USDA’s decision, the repercussions are not good. In fact, I see many predictable problems just waiting to happen. In my mind, it’s much better to solve a problem before it happens than to have to deal with the problem at all.
The most obvious predictable problem is the consumer backlash that will happen. And it’s easy to see that at some point the USDA will have to spend time and money reacting to the backlash.
Second, it’s also predictable that this law is opening the door for the Chinese to export their chickens to the United States. Will these chickens need to be labeled as coming from China? Probably not, given the precedent that has already been set with the latest ruling. Personally, I don’t like the idea of not being told that a chicken was processed or came from China. I’d venture to guess I’m not alone.
Should we do something about this now? Should we write the USDA? Should we get our voice heard? I think the answer is a definite “yes.” Let’s not let problems be problems. When you see the problem before it happens, you need to solve it now so the problem never exists.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.