China/Imports: Is my chicken coming from China, or other countries?
More than 99% of the chicken sold in the U.S. comes from chickens hatched, raised and processed within our country. Less than 1% of the chicken we consume is imported from Canada or Chile. China barely registers, with chicken imports from their nation at a fraction of 1%.
I heard that there are shipments of U.S. chicken sent to China to be processed, and then sent back here. Is that the case?
No, any accounts of U.S. chicken being exported to China for processing, then being shipped back are “fake news.” Doing so would completely lack economic sense, particularly in light of record input costs along with sky-high shipping and freight costs.
I heard that that the U.S. is importing cooked chicken from China. Is that true?
China exports a VERY small amount of chicken to the U.S. under strict conditions and inspection—only about two dozen metric tons from Jan-May of 2022. Almost all of which were cooked or prepared products sold in niche Asian markets. To put that number in perspective, the U.S. exported 69,000 metric tons of chicken to Mexico alone in May of 2022, according to the Trade Data Monitor.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that America’s supply of meat, poultry and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged. Part of achieving this mission includes ensuring countries that export these products to the U.S. have food safety systems in place that are equivalent to our domestic system.
If a country requests to export an FSIS-regulated product to the U.S., FSIS is obligated to undergo a thorough process to determine whether or not that country’s food safety system is equivalent to ours to ensure that American consumers would receive food that is safe to eat. China requested such a review to export poultry products. In response, over the past several years FSIS has reviewed China’s poultry food safety system in two parts: one system for slaughtering poultry, and one system for processing poultry.
The following timeline of events has taken place since:
- In August 2013, FSIS announced that based on its review of China’s system for processed poultry, China is eligible to export processed, fully-cooked chicken from the U.S. and other approved source countries (like Canada or Chile,) to the U.S.
- On March 4, 2016, FSIS published a follow-up report on an audit of China’s processing system that found China’s processing system continues to be equivalent.
- Two years later in 2019, China’s food safety system for poultry received the “equivalent” designation.
Once Chinese poultry received the “equivalence” designation in 2019, the USDA said a review of the country’s poultry laws and regulations found that they were “equivalent to the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), the regulations implementing this statute, and the U.S.’ food safety system for poultry.” The equivalence decision came after “extensive documentation” and audits, permitting China to export processed chicken products from birds slaughtered and processed in “certified [Chinese] establishments.”
Because of the economies of scale achieved by the U.S. chicken industry, it is difficult for any country to compete domestically in the U.S.
As of June 2, 2022, four Chinese processing plants were eligible to export cooked poultry products to the U.S. On July 8, 2022, a USDA FSIS spokesperson confirmed rigorous standards are used to inspect food from China. “FSIS’ process for ensuring the safety of imported meat, poultry and egg products is rigorous and mandates that the exporting country has an equivalent food safety inspection system, which means that it achieves a level of public health protection equivalent to FSIS’ robust inspection system,” the spokesperson said.
What’s the bottom line?
Remember: in the U.S., chicken is subject to country of origin labeling. If there are any concerns, look for the “Hatched, Raised, and Harvested in the USA” label on chicken packages. Again, more than 99% of the chicken in the U.S. is of U.S. origin.