U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced Thursday that the U.S. was greenlighting the importation of cooked chicken from China. The bird meat could be arriving as soon as mid-August. But the deal is raising concerns among critics, who point to China's long history of food-safety scandals.
Where’s the Beef?
Although the deal results in the importation of Chinese chicken, its purpose is to open the Chinese beef market to U.S. exporters, who have been barred from China for 13 years. In 2003, a case of “mad cow disease” (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) cropped up in the U.S.; many countries temporarily banned imports of U.S. beef, but China has kept the ban in place, obviously as a bargaining chip for future trade negotiations.
The new trade deal has been in the works for more than a decade, slowed by worries in Congress over China's notoriously inadequate food-safety practices.
But American beef producers are now rejoicing: "After being locked out of the world's largest market [a $2.5 billion market] for 13 years, we strongly welcome the announcement that an agreement has been made to restore U.S. beef exports to China," said Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "It's impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for America's cattle producers, and the Trump administration deserves a lot of credit for getting this achieved."
The U.S. should be exporting beef to China by mid-July. That is also the deadline for the U.S. to finalize rules for the importation of cooked chicken products from China.
Did health flu the coop?
Why cooked chicken instead of raw? China has long had a problem with outbreaks of Avian Flu, which originates in pigs, spreads to poultry, and ultimately infects human beings. It was believed that if raw Chinese poultry were processed in the U.S., Avian Flu could potentially contaminate American plants or somehow spread to birds here in the States. The compromise was to allow only cooked chicken to be imported.
Still, nations who want to export meat and poultry to the U.S. are supposed to be able to demonstrate that their food-safety inspection systems are equivalent to the U.S. system. China has a very poor track record on food safety issues, a record that includes rat meat being sold as lamb, oil recovered from drainage ditches in gutters being sold as cooking oil, and baby formula contaminated with melamine that sickened hundreds of thousands of babies and killed six. Last December, China's own Food and Drug Administration reported that it had uncovered as many as a half-million cases of food-safety violations in the first three quarters of 2016.
Given this compromised safety record, we can reasonably ask whether the pressure to open the Chinese beef market to American producers has led to Chinese chicken exporters being treated with a wink and a nod, rather than with rigorous safety inspections.
The U.S. is taking extra precautions: The USDA has gone to China to inspect plants that would process the chicken to be shipped to America, and a team from the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has traveled to China to train Chinese officials in meat safety. But critics derive little comfort from these precautions, arguing that China has historically been very inconsistent in the enforcement of food-safety standards.
Experts say that they do not expect Chinese cooked chicken to overwhelm store shelves, because the economics of raising chickens domestically, as opposed to importing them from China, still favor U.S. producers.
Time to Give up Meat?
The New World order of increasing international trade is not going away. President Trump has stated that he will try to re-negotiate trade deals to give American-based manufacturing and American exporters a better chance to compete, but the international system is here to stay. Foreign-produced food items will become increasingly common on American store shelves. And that is a cause for major concern.
Brazil recently launched a massive raid on two of its largest meat producers, alleging that they bribed inspectors to certify meat that was either rotten or tainted with salmonella. Police discovered more than 30 instances of meatpackers paying bribes. Some of the meat ended up in lunches at public schools, and some of it was exported, shipped to markets in Italy and Spain.
Given the sketchy safety history of the third-world food producers who increasingly will supply our food, it is time for the remaining Adventists meat-eaters to rethink their diet.
“Could you know just the nature of the meat you eat, could you see the animals when living from which the flesh is taken when dead, you would turn with loathing from your flesh meats. The very animals whose flesh you eat, are frequently so diseased that, if left alone, they would die of themselves; but while the breath of life is in them, they are killed and brought to market. You take directly into your system humors and poison of the worst kind, and yet you realize it not.” 2T 404-405.
Even in the United States, several states whose economies rely heavily on agriculture have passed laws, called “Ag-gag” laws, making it illegal to film the factory farms in which meat is industrially produced. We increasingly will not know how meat is produced, or even in what country it is produced, turning flesh food consumption into a game of Russian Roulette.