WASHINGTON, DC— Following an announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that meats processed in Chinese facilities will be allowed unmarked in American markets, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is demanding additional answers and action from the Secretary of Agriculture.
“Given the well-documented shortcoming of the Chinese food safety system, we shouldn’t allow unmarked meat into our markets that is processed in Chinese facilities that are not subject to food safety inspections,” Brown said. “This action could endanger the health and safety of American consumers and potentially undermines confidence in our nation’s food safety standards.”
USDA recently reaffirmed a 2006 equivalency standard granting four Chinese poultry processors the ability to ship processed meat into American markets. Under new guidelines, no USDA inspector will be present in Chinese facilities and products will lack country of origin labeling. Consumers will be unable to identify whether the chicken in their nuggets, patties or canned-soups is from Chinese processors.
Brown has been a strong advocate in the Senate for food safety, and was instrumental in passing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, he passed legislation to give the FDA new authority to recall dangerous foods, improve the safety of imported products, and establish a comprehensive traceability system to quickly and accurately trace the source of tainted food in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.
During a U.S. Senate Agriculture hearing in July, Brown urged heightened scrutiny of a Chinese-subsidized company’s bid to buy Smithfield Foods. Brown emphasized that any review of the deal should consider the national security, food safety, and long-term food security implications of approving the transaction. In 2012, Brown led the way in holding the Food and Drug Administration responsible after an Ohio family’s five-month old puppy, Penny, passed away after eating tainted chicken jerky made in China.
The letter to the USDA is below.
September 19, 2013
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
It is my understanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently reaffirmed the 2006 equivalency standard granted to China’s food safety inspection system. As a result, approved poultry processors in China will be able to sell their product in the United States without country of origin labeling.
Given the well-documented shortcomings of the Chinese food safety system, it appears that granting China equivalency status at this time needlessly endangers the health and safety of American consumers and potentially undermines confidence in our nation’s food safety system. Media reports suggest FSIS will permit processed poultry to be sent to the U.S. with no USDA inspectors present at the Chinese plants to conduct inspections.
For many, this approach raises serious concerns given China’s egregious safety record on food products and regular food scares recently, including tainted baby formula blamed for infant deaths and sickness in China and a U.S. recall of Chinese poultry-based pet treats that may have sickened hundreds of pets. With these concerns in mind, I would appreciate your responses to the following questions:
- When will the first Chinese-processed poultry shipments reach U.S. ports of entry?
- Is it true that poultry processed in China would be labeled upon reaching our shores, and possibly subject to reinspection, but regulatory exemptions for processed poultry and meats allow labeling to be removed before these products are purchased by American consumers? If so, how might this labeling gap be remedied by USDA?
- What additional regulatory or labeling steps might USDA take to ensure that American consumers are given all currently available information regarding supply chain safety and country of origin of their meat products (processed and unprocessed)?
- Has FSIS requested that it be able to station its inspectors in Chinese poultry facilities when products destined for export to the U.S. are processed? If not, why not?
- Will there be intensified port-of-entry inspection of products imported from China under the provisions of the August 30, 2013 FSIS announcement? If so, please identify those measures and the agency responsible for implementation.
- Is USDA or FSIS also currently working toward approving the shipment of Chinese-origin poultry and other meats (processed or unprocessed) to the U.S.? If so, what is the status of that effort?
- What if any further regulatory or administrative steps are required before FSIS decision on processing poultry in China is fully implemented?
- Which U.S., Canadian, or Chilean poultry slaughter facilities have been identified by USDA that will ship raw poultry to China for further processing?
- Has USDA developed or sought industry-wide data concerning the anticipated employment effects of its decisions on the U.S. based poultry and meat processing industry?
American consumers deserve to be fully informed of their product choices and should be afforded every opportunity to buy quality, American-sourced food products that support U.S. farmers and U.S.-based employment. I appreciate your engagement on this issue and look forward your timely responses.
United States Senator