U.S. to Inspect Chinese Chicken Companies
First Published Wednesday, 23rd January 2013 01:33 am - © 2013 Dow Jones
WASHINGTON--The U.S. in late January or early February is scheduled to send agricultural officials to China to inspect poultry-processing plants, a development that could lead to a reversal of a ban on chicken sales to the U.S.
The planned inspections are the result of seven years of negotiations between the two countries aimed at healing a rift in U.S.-China trade relations, possibly clearing the way for the U.S. export of beef to China and the easing of Chinese tariffs that restrict U.S. chicken exports.
U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors will try to verify Chinese claims that several of its chicken-processing-and-slaughter plants meet U.S. food safety standards, according to USDA officials.
Years of negotiations with the Chinese were complicated by opposition from lawmakers in Congress concerned about the safety of Chinese chicken and a frequent turnover of the Chinese officials involved in the talks, one USDA official said.
Chinese chicken imports aren't approved for export to the U.S. because of past food safety concerns, but the country is interested in both processing U.S.-raised birds and exporting the meat and processing Chinese-raised chickens and exporting those. U.S. officials will first consider approval the import of chicken from U.S.-raised birds that are processed overseas, and then turn to chicken produced and processed in China, USDA officials said this week. It will be at least a year before the USDA would be able to clear China to export domestically raised chicken, one USDA official said.
China is currently only approved to export chicken in the form of pet food to the U.S., where the Food and Drug Administration is investigating a possible link between Chinese jerky treats and reports of dog illnesses and deaths.
China has wanted to sell chicken in the U.S. since 2006. But bird flu outbreaks, food safety issues and opposition in Congress have delayed any lifting of the ban.
The prohibition on Chinese chicken has long been a thorn in U.S.-China trade relations, according to Iowa State University Professor Dermot Hayes, who said resolving that issue will help to get China to soften its barriers to U.S. agricultural goods, allowing the U.S. to send beef to China, for example.
Chinese officials were constantly pushing for the U.S. to speed up the process of approving the safety of the country's chicken meat, said Richard Raymond, the USDA's former food safety chief under President George W. Bush.
"It was a matter of pride for China," Dr. Raymond said.
U.S. agriculture exports to China, especially soybeans, have boomed in recent years, but meat products have not fared well. China continues to ban U.S. beef nine years after bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was first detected in a U.S. cow in December 2003. And in 2011, China put high tariffs on U.S. chicken that has almost eliminated U.S. chicken exports to China.
U.S. demands that China buy its beef and Chinese demands that the U.S. buy its chicken have been intertwined for years, according to a former USDA official that was involved in negotiations between the two countries. China consistently refused to make concessions on U.S. beef without USDA action on Chinese chicken.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a group representing U.S. ranchers and beef producers, estimated last year that the U.S. could be exporting $200 million of beef to China per year if the ban was lifted.
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