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DeLauro concerned over Chinese poultry plant approvals

FSIS criticized for not being more proactive in evaluation of other countries’ food safety systems.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) again sounded the alarm on what she feels are inadequate food safety protocols. She wrote a letter July 20 to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue expressing her concern over USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) approval of three new Chinese poultry processing plants as eligible to export to the U.S.

“For years, China has dealt with issues caused by the deficiencies of a fragmented food safety system. Most recently, researchers have identified multiple antibiotic-resistant genes being carried by the country’s commercial chicken flock,” DeLauro wrote. “I strongly believe FSIS must be much more proactive and thorough when it comes to the evaluation of other countries’ food safety systems, which is why I am alarmed by the recent release of internal emails that show FSIS taking a stunningly passive approach in approving three new Chinese poultry processing as eligible to export to the United States.”

In her letter to Perdue, DeLauro detailed the email exchanges with FSIS and China’s Certification & Accreditation Administration (CNCA). On Nov. 16, 2017, CNCA recommended that FSIS approve three new Chinese poultry processing plants as eligible for export. On Nov. 18, 2017, an FSIS official, realizing that the two of the new processing plants are located in provinces not audited by FSIS, questioned CNCA about the adequacy of the oversight at the plants. The email exchange revealed that FSIS accepted an email confirmation of China’s food safety oversight procedures through email.

“The email exchange seems to show that FSIS accepted the response from China’s Certification & Accreditation Administration and moved forward with certification of the new plants,” DeLauro noted. “Not only is it inappropriate for FSIS to accept a ‘simple confirmation’ of China’s food safety oversight procedures through email, but the exchange also raises serious questions about whether the inspection and oversight processes occurring in the newly certified poultry plants are equivalent to those of the United States.”

At a Jan. 25, 2018, consumer stakeholders meeting, FSIS confirmed that it had never audited two of the new plants added to the list, nor had the provincial inspection offices that were responsible for them.

“We find this to be unacceptable,” Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter noted in a separate letter to Perdue. “In our opinion, the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] inspection system does not meet our standards. The fact that the 2010 audit revealed that the PRC did not have a uniform inspection system across all of its provinces and FSIS has determined equivalency by conducting audits recently in only two of the PRC’s provinces shows to us that FSIS’s decision to accept the PRC’s certification of these new plants was flawed.”

DeLauro sought answers by Aug. 31 on several of her questions, including whether USDA believes that granting equivalency to the entire Chinese poultry processing system based on a small number of audits in a limited amount of Chinese provinces was a responsible decision and, if so, how the department can justify the determination.

Read the letter here. 

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