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Playing chicken with China
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Remember that old joke, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Here’s a new one: Why does a dead chicken cross the ocean twice? The answer is because it’s cheaper to process U.S.-raised and slaughtered chicken in China than it is in the USA.
Last August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced that four Chinese plants have been “certified” to process chicken raised and slaughtered in the USA, then ship that chicken back here for to us to eat.
Is this a crazy idea or what? Why ship our dead chicken to China and back, some 14,000 miles round trip, just to have it cooked and processed in a country with a dismal food safety record?
China’s flawed food system has resulted in horrific scandals in recent years. Food Safety News reports, “Several children died and 300,000 were hospitalized from milk powder tainted with melamine. A million dollars’ worth of 'lamb' sold to Chinese consumers turned out to be the meat from rats and foxes. And the Food and Drug Administration has actually warned U.S. pet owners not to buy Chinese jerky treats, including those made from chicken or duck, because thousands of cats and dogs have been sickened and hundreds have died from eating them.”
It’s enough to gag a maggot.  
And why do such a dumb thing, when we have poultry processors aplenty doing a better, safer job here in America?
These questions deserve straight answers. So does this one: Why are U.S. seafood companies  already allowed to  ship domestically caught salmon and crab to China to be de-boned or shelled and shipped back to this country?
These dumb and dangerous decisions may be cost-effective for corporate America’s interests due to China’s lower labor costs. I understand American poultry processors earn roughly $11 per hour, while their Chinese counterparts make only $1 or $2 per hour.
A similar differential is true for seafood. According to the Seattle Times, “domestically caught Pacific salmon and Dungeness crab are being processed in China and sent back to the U.S. because of significant cost savings.”
Charles Bundrant, founder of Trident, shipper of some 30 million pounds of salmon to and from China annually for processing, states, “There are 36 pin bones in a salmon and the best way to remove them is by hand. Something that would cost us $1 per pound labor here, they get it done for 20 cents in China.”
Unfortunately, what’s good for corporate chicken and seafood profits is bad for consumer food safety. Cozy arrangements like these with the USDA and FDA are perversions of capitalism and free trade. Moreover, they endanger American food consumers, including, our school children, who may be the most vulnerable among us.
If you share my concerns on this issue of corporate profits over consumer safety, speak up. Let’s voice our outrage to our national legislators and regulators. If we don’t, the well-traveled dead chicken joke will be on us.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at