But the Department of Agriculture is proposing that China be allowed to export some processed poultry to the United States.
The chickens themselves could not be produced or slaughtered in China. The birds would have to be grown and slaughtered in the United States or in one of the few other countries that are allowed to ship their domestic chicken to the United States.
The Chinese products would have to be cooked and shelf-stable, such as canned goods. Cooking kills viruses, including those that cause avian flu, experts say.
Any processing plants in China allowed to export products to the United States also would have to be inspected to ensure they meet the same food safety standards that U.S. facilities do.
The timing “is very odd,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group. It would open the border to poultry processed in China “at a time when a lot is not known about avian influenza in China and China is known to have it.”
China has reported 29 outbreaks of avian flu this year.
While humans so far have contracted the virus only from close contact with birds, health officials’ biggest fear is that the virus will mutate into a form passed easily from person to person.
It isn’t clear when Chinese exports would start. The Agriculture Department will field public comments on the proposal before moving forward.
The department estimates that less than 2.5 million pounds would be sent to the United States. That is the equivalent of 714,000 chickens, a fraction of the more than 9 billion produced yearly in the United States, according to the National Chicken Council.
Agriculture Department officials said Chinese competition could force U.S. companies to specialize in products they can produce at lower cost.
Allowing Chinese products is the price of liberalizing trade, said Richard Lobb of the National Chicken Council.
“Free trade benefits our country,” he said. “If this comes as a corollary to it, we just have to deal with it.”
By PHILIP BRASHER, Des Moines Register
Gannett News Service