Warns of Major Health Hazard

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take dramatic and immediate measures to ensure the safety of chickens processed in China and sold in the United States.  A new Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule will, for the first time, soon allow chickens raised in the United States to be processed at four plants in mainland China and then sold to U.S. consumers.  Schumer said that while the plants and processing methods have been deemed initially safe by the USDA, lax enforcement going forward could expose U.S.

consumers to serious risk of food borne illness, especially given the appallingly poor food-safety track record of Chinese food products.

Schumer said the U.S. must take two immediate steps: (1) increase the number of on-the-ground audits and inspections of the Chinese inspection system and all Chinese facilities where meat is processed and (2) increased inspection of chicken meat shipped back to the United States with the highest level of scrutiny and frequency, to ensure meat is safe for consumption and originated in the United States.He pointed to the numerous and disturbing incidents of tainted food exported from China, including arsenic in calamari and rice, maggots in pasta, glass chips in pumpkin seeds. Other examples include:

· Police in China apprehended a group of criminals who have been selling rat, fox or mink meat as lamb for the past four years to markets in Shanghai and surrounding areas and made up to 10 million yuan ($1.6 million)

· At least 175 people had been sickened by insecticide-tainted dumplings from China, prompting supermarkets to pull Chinese-made meat products from their shelves while Tokyo pressed Beijing to improve food safety.

· The FDA effectively blocked the sale of five types of farm-raised seafood from China because of repeated instances of contamination from unapproved animal drugs and food additives. The F.D.A. said it decided to take the action after years of warnings and even a visit to Chinese fish ponds that resulted in no signs of improvement.

· Uncooked pork was found glowing in the dark due to a phosphorescent bacteria. An unsuspecting woman bought the pork in a Shanghai market only to find it radiating later that night on her kitchen table. The ghostly pork returned to normal meat color by morning.

· Hong Kong food inspectors found eggs imported from northeast China to be contaminated with high levels of melamine, toxic industrial additive at the heart of an adulteration scandal in Chinese milk products.

· Hundreds of other parents here in central China unwittingly bought bad baby formula, in which nutritional supplements had been replaced with starch or sugar. Nearly 200 other babies, including at least 13 who died, now have what local residents call ‘’big head disease.

Schumer said that these measures should be required because of the serious history of food-borne illnesses stemming from food products originating in China.  He also pointed out that because no USDA country-of-origin labeling is required for food that is simply processed in another country, consumers will have no idea that their food has been processed in China.

“Given Chinese processors poor track record with regard to food-safety standards, the USDA should be taking every possible step to ensure that the chicken that ends up on our plates and in our McNuggets is safe – and raised right here in the United States – where we have significant oversight and safety standards,” said Schumer.  “Based on prior outbreaks and a pattern of violations, we know that there are real risks from eating meat raised in China, and we have to be vigilant to ensure that unscrupulous processors in China are not trying to take shortcuts while processing chicken from the U.S., and are not trying to substitute cheaper and less safe Chinese fowl.”

Recently, the USDA ended the U.S. ban on processed chicken imports from China and approved four Chinese chicken processing plants for sale back to the U.S. market.  The four plants are only allowed to process birds raised and slaughtered in the U.S., Canada or Chile.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued the audit report on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. The report notes that USDA inspectors will not be required on the four sites to verify that only “approved” chicken is being processed. Additionally, because the chicken is being processed, a USDA “country of original” label will not be required on the food products.

China has been home to a number of serious food safety concerns. In March, thousands of dead pigs were found floating in a river in China that supplies drinking water. The incident occurred after a large crackdown on people selling diseased pigs.

In April, the World Health Organization announced that avian influenza (also known as bird flu) had been identified in a number of people in China. Travelers and Americans living in China were advised not to touch birds or pigs and to avoid live bird or poultry markets.

In May, sixty-three people in China were arrested for buying and selling rat, fox and mink flesh and selling it as mutton for $1.6 million.

Also since 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has logged over 2,000 complaints about dogs becoming sick or having died from chicken-jerky dog treats made in China.

Schumer today called on the USDA to require on-site audits at the recently approved Chinese chicken processing plants and for increased re-inspection of all Chinese chicken meat re-entering the country. In the wake of numerous food safety concerns in China, Schumer made the case that increased inspections are necessary to make American consumers feel confident that the chicken being served in the United States is safe to eat. Schumer also urged the USDA to increase the number of random tests it conducts on the chicken when it arrives in the United States.

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