Meat industry urges rethink on Chinese chicken

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: World trade organization

A group of meat industry representatives has sent a letter to President Obama urging a rethink of legislation banning imported cooked poultry from China, saying it breaches US trade obligations.

The 54 signatories, including US trade organizations and food companies, have advised the Obama Administration to oppose a provision in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act preventing the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) from allowing imports of cooked poultry from China.

China has voiced its concern about this rule for some time, and filed the case with the World Trade Organization (WTO) on April 17. If it does not reach a resolution within 60 days, China can ask a WTO trade resolution panel to make a decision on the issue.

“At a time when US producers are seeking to sell their goods and services abroad during a difficult global economic crisis, it is vital that we uphold our trade obligations,”​ the letter said.

The group is concerned that the provision does not allow for proper scientific assessment of the safety of Chinese cooked poultry for American consumption – some of which originates in the US.

Possible sanctions?

By targeting just one country with this rule, the US meat industry is worried that its government is not upholding its World Trade Organization responsibility to treat all trading partners equally. As a result, overseas markets could feasibly impose sanctions on American meat producers.

“Laws and regulations must be crafted such that the US does not ignore its international trade obligations – obligations that the US government has helped to develop, and in particular to prevent other countries from adopting protectionist, non-science based measures against US food and agriculture exports under the guise of food safety,”​ the letter said.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) started the administrative process for clearing cooked poultry for import in 2006, after it had been blocked due to avian flu fears in 2004, but Congress denied funding. That provision has been included in every annual Appropriations Act since, but those in the meat industry have said that if the rule is not relaxed, it could hurt US industry.

The letter continued: “We agree that the US government must effectively and safely regulate the quality of food products sold in this country. However, to maintain the effectiveness and integrity of the US food safety system, such regulations must be based on sound science and an appropriate risk assessment.”

China imported $442m worth of US poultry during 2008, including chicken feet, for which there is no market in the US.

The letter’s signatories hope to influence the Obama Administration to exclude Section 727 from the Omnibus Appropriations Act, which states: “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to establish or implement a rule allowing poultry products to be imported into the United States from the People’s Republic of China.”

The Act which is currently under consideration would affect fiscal year 2010.

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