NEW YORK—Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for strict oversight and inspections of chicken processed in Chinese plants, which could soon find its way to store shelves in the United States.
On Aug. 30, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved four Chinese facilities to ship processed chicken to the United States.
Under current rules, the chicken products will not be labeled to show their country of origin, and the plants will not have a USDA inspector on site to oversee food safety.
The chickens eligible for export would need to have been raised and slaughtered in the United States and then shipped to China for processing. Schumer believes that with no inspectors on site in the Chinese plants, and given China’s poor track record on food safety, hazardous chicken products could potentially enter the U.S. market.
The senator cited cases of arsenic in Chinese calamari and rice, maggots in pasta, glass chips in pumpkin seeds, and deadly dog food. He also recalled a recent incident in which 63 people were arrested for selling rat, fox, and mink meat and passing it off as mutton.
“The list of disturbing incidents of food that comes from China is huge,” Schumer said outside Associated Supermarkets on East 14th Street near First Avenue in Manhattan on Sept. 15.
“We all know that China has an appallingly poor record when it comes to food safety,” he added.
Schumer believes that the August announcement from the USDA “is probably some kind of quid pro quo.”
“Somebody wants China to do something, and China says, ‘In return, let us import these chickens.’ And then the USDA is forced to do it, even though they don’t have the inspections,” Schumer said.
“It is just outrageous. This is the health of Americans—kids, adults, elderly—and you can’t make trades on the back of people’s health,” he added.
In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Schumer called for annual inspections to be conducted at the Chinese plants. He also asked that the imports be rigorously and frequently retested before being sold to consumers in the United States.
“If they don’t cooperate with the United States’ foreign policy, why would they cooperate with the chicken exports?” said Bob Amand, a New York resident. “On the major issues, they are not with us, so why would you trust their label if it’s not USDA-inspected?”
Current USDA rules say that processed meat products do not have to be labeled to identify their country of origin. The rules apply to the chicken that may come from the four USDA-approved plants in China, leaving consumers with no way to discern the food’s origin.
Schumer held up a box of chicken nuggets and a package of raw chicken breasts to demonstrate his point.