BOSTON (CBS) — As soon as next summer, nuggets and other popular chicken products could be made with chicken processed in China, all because of a recent change in regulations.
“Oh, it makes me a little nervous,” says mother of two, Katrina Lee.
China has a long history of serving up unsafe food, including the industrial chemical melamine that was deliberately put in pet food and infant formula. There were also cases of tainted rat meat passed off as lamb.
“To me it’s a big leap of faith for us to now have to accept that foods coming from china are going to be safe,” says Elizabeth Scott, a food safety expert at Simmons College.
But despite consumer concern, the USDA has cleared the way for Chinese poultry processors to ship meat to America. The poultry must be raised and slaughtered in approved countries like the US or Canada. And it has to come back to the US fully cooked. Bill Mattos, President of the California Poultry Foundation, says ” If its cooked, it should be perfectly safe.”
But how does it make economic sense to send raw chicken thousands of miles away to China only to have it sent back to the US cooked? Some say it’s about a much bigger plan.
“We think the USDA cut corners in this instance due to trade concerns,” says Tony Corbo a senior lobbyist for the food campaign at Food and Water Watch.
Corbo is critical of the new rule. The deal puts an end to a long trade war with China over poultry. And in return it could open more doors for American grown food to be sold in China. “This is really a big deal for trade. If China likes what we’re doing they’ll buy more products and China has a lot more people,” says Mattos.
American poultry producers say only a small amount of US chicken will actually be processed in China. But critics warn it could end up as an ingredient in pot pies, chicken noodle soup, and yes, nuggets, but you won’t even know it.
“China” won’t be on the label, thanks to a loophole in the law. Shipping in food from China is not new. Last year, China sent more than 4 billion pounds of food to the US including half the apple juice we drink, 30% of the garlic we use, and 85% of the tilapia we eat. Now processed chicken may be the next thing on the menu.