Author Megan Fanale Engel

On November 10, the Food Safety and Inspection Service ("FSIS") released a statement declaring that the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") has not found China's poultry slaughter system to be equivalent to the United States' poultry slaughter system.  As a result, poultry from China may not be imported into the United States.

If a foreign country would like to import into the United States products regulated by FSIS, the USDA is required to review the country's request and conduct an audit of the country's food safety system to ensure that it is "equivalent" to the United States food safety system.

China had previously submitted a request to FSIS for the agency to assess its poultry system to determine whether it was equivalent to the United States' system.  FSIS originally found China's food safety inspection system for processed poultry equivalent to the United States in 2006.  This finding would allow China to export cooked chicken to the United States as long as China met two requirements:  (1) the raw poultry product must have originated from the United States, Canada, or Chile; and (2) China must have certified plants that would process the chicken for export and provide that information to FSIS.  On August 30, 2013, FSIS stated that it had reaffirmed the equivalence of China's poultry processing system.  Despite such findings, China had not begun exporting processed chicken to the United States because it had never certified plants that would process the chicken for export.

On September 16, Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to the USDA expressing concern over FSIS's decision to grant China equivalence in regard to the exportation of processed poultry.  Senator Schumer cited significant failures by the Chinese government in enforcing its food safety laws and regulations.  For example, Senator Schumer cited to a 2008 milk contamination that led to the death of four infants and a determination by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that certain pet food treats had been contaminated in China.  In addition, the Senator cited a 2010 audit of China's processed poultry system conducted by FSIS, which found issues with China's food safety quality control processes.

On September 24, USDA FSIS Administrator Al Almanza addressed some of the general concerns regarding the safety of processed chicken from China.  He explained that prior to the August 30 announcement, FSIS's audit staff reviewed six components of China's food safety system:  (1) food safety laws and regulations; (2) government oversight; (3) sanitation controls; (4) Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point systems; (5) control programs for chemical residue; and (6) programs to test microbiological contamination.  After reviewing these components, FSIS staff determined that China had demonstrated equivalence with the United States' food safety system.

However, in its November 10, 2013 press release, FSIS backtracked on its previous findings.  There, FSIS made it clear that "USDA has not found China's poultry slaughter system to be equivalent and therefore poultry slaughtered in China is not allowed to be imported to the United States."  The press release added that while FSIS previously audited China's poultry slaughter system, it has not finalized the audit results as of this time.

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