BOSTON (CBS) — “Buy Local” is a hot trend when it comes to buying food these days. Emphasis is put on knowing the source of the things we eat.
But the federal government is implementing a policy that is going to make that a little harder when it comes to eating chicken.
The United States Department of Agriculture is allowing domestic chicken producers to send their products to China for processing. But that is just phase one. The second part of this process allows for the processed chicken to be sent back to the United States for consumption.
Elizabeth Frary and her husband run Copicut Farm in Dartmouth where they raise and slaughter all their own poultry. It doesn’t get much fresher, or safer, than that.
“We feel that a simplified food system is the easiest for consumers to understand, and as few steps as possible reduces the risks of any concerns,” said Frary.
Alex Beauchamp of Food & Water Watch believes the catalyst for this policy is economic. It will allow large U.S. poultry manufacturers to outsource and save money. Here, the average wage for a poultry processor is about $11 an hour. In China the rate is closer to $2.
Americans are accustomed to importing food. In fact, imports have doubled. 50% of fresh fruit is now shipped in. But this arrangement, involving meat and China, has many people worried.
Beauchamp explained, “The Chinese food safety system is no way equivalent to ours, and shouldn’t be treated as such.”
The USDA told CBS News the agency is establishing a three-part system to ensure all chicken sent to China for processing will be handled in the same way it would be here at home. The agency said all products will undergo re-inspection at U.S. ports of entry.
“I don’t have confidence in the capacity of a port inspection to identify all of the issues that could exist within the product,” said Jeff Cole, executive director of Mass Farmers Market. “I hope that food safety doesn’t become an issue.”
As of now, only processed chicken, like nuggets and Buffalo wings, will fall under the plan. But there is concern it will soon apply to all chicken.
“With any meat, there are concerns about safe handling,” said Frary. “Anytime you increase the number of handlers, there’s probably some concern for there to be a mistake.”