Sunday, September 13, 2015

Meatless Monday, Long Road to China Edition

China. A nation famous for its ancient culture and traditions, as well as for being that place where all our stuff is made these days, from underwear to beach chairs to iPhones. It's no secret, as well, that it's also where a lot of bad things can happen to food.

So it was pretty surprising when, in 2014, the USDA (The United States Department of Agriculture) approved a deal that would allow chicken produced in the US to be sent to China for processing, before being shipped back for human consumption. To put it another way, the U.S. would allow frozen American chicken to be shipped to China, to have a Chinese company thaw the chicken, cook the chicken, refreeze it, and send it back to the States. I get paranoid just doing that with left-overs
and I'm not even sending it on a 14,000 mile round trip!

Which even National Chicken Council spokesman Tom Super says is a long way to go to process a chicken, and “doesn’t make much sense economically." 

So what's the deal, USDA?

Munchies, a website and digital video channel dedicated to the modern food scene, speculates that: 
“The USDA’s move to bring Chinese plants into the American fold is just the first step in a politically motivated process to get the country to give the U.S. something in return. In 2003, when mad cow disease was discovered in cattle in Washington state, China enacted a ban on imported U.S. beef that continues to this day. With China’s meat consumption on the rise, it makes sense that U.S. beef producers would want to recapture that lucrative market. By starting to accept China’s processed chicken, the U.S. is apparently warming to the idea of soon accepting the country’s raw, unprocessed poultry—a move that might convince China to lift its beef ban.”
Oh, okay; political two-step, a "scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours" move, if Munchies is correct. For their part, it's been reported that our four major chicken companies, Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms, have nothing to do with this deal, nor do they want to. They have yet to put any money into developing an export/import strategy; neither has the National Chicken Council or the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. And lobbyists, as well as other chicken industry proponents, emphatically argue no U.S. company will ever ship chicken to China for processing because, as quoted above, it “doesn’t make much sense economically." 

Mr. Super's comment  is, I'm sure, supposed to be a comforting one, though, of course what it means, is that if there was a way to make a buck on it, they'd do it in a heartbeat, which this USDA plan has now made possible. Writing of the situation in China, award-winning poet and critic of governmental policy Yang Lian states:
"Seduced by the high profits that can be earned from selling food, food producers have no qualms about selling fake or substandard food, or even adding poisonous chemicals to food products, as long as it makes the food look good enough to dupe the customers into buying it."
He could just as easily be talking about the US, couldn't he? After all, if profit is the primary factor, not the health and safety of the consumer, what, then, is the difference?

I rest my case!