American Chicken: What Labels Won't Tell You

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Processed chicken joined the long list of products OK-ed for import to the United States from China. However, health standards in Chinese food processing plants raise concerns.

Four Chinese poultry processors received approval from the Department of Agriculture to export processed chicken meat to the U.S., reported the New York Times. The chicken meat must originate in the U.S. However, after being ground, shredded, cooked, heat-treated and pumped full of preservatives, the meat will return to the United States without any labeling to let consumers know where the chicken was processed.

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Considering the mountain of health threats the Chinese people themselves face from lax food safety regulation and enforcement, American consumers may be reticent to chomp on a chicken nugget processed in China.

For example in 2008, six infants died from tainted baby formula and 54,000 were hospitalized. The Chinese now smuggle formula manufactured in other nations, reported the L.A. Times. In just the past year, Chinese consumers have been fed rat meat passed off as mutton, pesticide-laced ginger, cadmium-tainted rice and copper-sulfate contaminated preserved duck eggs, according to the New York Times.

Chicken nuggets already occupy the same level of the human food chain as hot dogs. They are not the best cuts of meat, and they often contain numerous chemical additives. However, at least the processed chicken produced in the U.S. came from a factory that had direct oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration.

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Chinese officials contend that their food processing plants shouldn’t be held to the same standards as other nations.

“If we were to take European Union air quality standards and apply them to Beijing, we would fail every day,” said Wang Zhutian, assistant to the director at the National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment, on China National Radio.

One goal in opening the U.S. to Chinese-processed chicken is to encourage the world’s most populous nation to open it’s gates to more American agricultural imports, including beef. China doesn’t allow U.S. beef into the nation because of fear over mad cow disease.

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“We’re hoping the Chinese will look a little more favorably on our chicken products and on other U.S. agricultural imports,” said Tom Super, spokesman for the chicken processing industry group the National Chicken Council, in the New York Times.

However, there are no guarantees that China will allow more U.S. imports.

IMAGE: Chicken nuggets (Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)