Chinese Chicken: Why I’m Starting Another Food Petition & How You Can Help | Civil Eats

Chinese Chicken: Why I’m Starting Another Food Petition & How You Can Help

As many of you know, in March, 2012 I launched on The Lunch Tray a petition seeking to remove lean, finely textured beef (“LFTB,” more widely known as “pink slime”) from the ground beef procured by the USDA for the National School Lunch Program.  The petition garnered over a quarter of a million signatures in just a few days and ultimately led the USDA to change its policy, allowing school districts for the first time to opt out of receiving beef containing LFTB.

Though I’ve since been asked by activists and concerned readers to start petitions on other food-related issues, I didn’t want to exhaust your goodwill by urging you take action on one issue after another, no matter how important each individual cause might be.  But in the past few months I’ve been learning about a particular food safety issue and believe that an online petition is urgently needed to address it.  Today, I’m launching that petition on, along with two respected food activists, Nancy Huehnergarth and Barbara Kowalcyk.

Here’s the background.

In late August, the USDA announced that it will allow four Chinese facilities to process poultry raised and slaughtered in the United States, Chile or Canada, and then export the cooked poultry products back into the United States.  The USDA’s move is considered to be a preliminary step toward eventually allowing China to export its own raw poultry into this country, in exchange for China’s opening up its lucrative beef market to American beef producers.

A few weeks later, I posted here an exclusive report in which I determined that USDA had significantly misled parents regarding the possible inclusion of Chinese-processed chicken in school meals.  In response to my reporting, USDA eventually corrected its website to admit (in a rather convoluted fashion) that such chicken could in fact appear on school lunch trays and in other federal child nutrition programs.

Since that time, I’ve been honored to work with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and a coalition of other legislators, food safety experts and food activists regarding both Chinese-processed chicken in school meals and the prospect of Chinese-raised and -slaughtered chickens eventually reaching our supermarkets and schools.

Here’s why we’re so concerned.  China has an unusually troubling record when it comes to food safety, as reported on by numerous media outlets:

  • Last year, according to news reports, a Chinese poultry supplier provided Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in China with chicken fattened by large quantities of illegal drugs.

Yet, despite these concerns:

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  • Chinese facilities which process chicken for consumption in the U.S. will not have on-site USDA inspectors to ensure food safety.
  • Chinese-processed chicken will not have to bear “Country Of Origin Labeling,” which means that consumers will not know if they are purchasing or eating chicken processed in China.
  • Chinese-processed chicken, as my reporting showed, can be used in school meals and other federal child nutrition programs, despite the fact that children are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illnesses and dangerous chemicals.

Even more alarming is USDA’s plan to eventually allow chicken raised and slaughtered in China to be imported directly into the United States, despite the fact that:

  • December 2013 USDA audit found that China’s poultry slaughter system is not yet equivalent to that of the United States in terms of food safety practices.
  • The New York Times reported earlier this month that toxic soil and water pollution in some areas of China is causing growing concern over the safety of food produced in that country.
  • Bloomberg News reported that at a press conference last summer, one of China’s own food safety officials essentially admitted that his country can’t meet the food safety standards of more developed nations.

Last month, Representative DeLauro led a bipartisan group of fourteen federal lawmakers to submit a letter on these issues to the Agricultural Appropriations Committee, and Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have also sounded the alarm on Chinese chicken.


In support of these lawmakers’ efforts and to express our own dismay — as mothers, consumers and food activists — regarding these developments, Nancy, Barbara and I have launched a petition asking Congress, President Obama and his administration to to keep Chinese-processed chicken out of school meals and other child nutrition programs, and to prevent the importation of Chinese-raised and -slaughtered poultry.  (Barbara also appeared on the Dr. Oz show last month, along with Food Politics’ Marion Nestle, to discuss Chinese chicken – watch the segment here.)

I hope you’ll take a moment to sign this petition and then use Facebook, Twitter (hashtag: #chinesechicken) and email to share it with friends and family.

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As I learned from my 2012 petition, our governmental officials do listen when we join our voices together. Please lend your signature to this important effort to ensure the safety of our food. Thank you!

This post originally ran on the Lunch Tray.

Bettina Elias Siegel is a nationally recognized writer and commentator on issues relating to children and food. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Houston Chronicle, and other publications. She's the author of Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World and for 12 years covered the world of kid food and school nutrition in The Lunch Tray. Read more >

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  1. Kimberly
    How much of this chicken from China is being imported into our food system? How much is USDA purchasing to place in our schools? How much Chinese chicken is KFC using in its stores here in the U.S.? Certainly these quantities are known but you have forgotten to tell us. What and where are these Chinese products being served here in the United States? Too many times these petitions are just frivolous and we end up looking distracted and foolish when we are panicked into supporting those. Please put the complete facts on the table so we can judge for ourselves if this is a problem worthy of Congress's time (Lord knows they have plenty enough important stuff to do and they can't even seem to accomplish that - why would we heap more on their plates?)
  2. John
    Kimberly, i think you forgot to even read the article. The petition is to PREVENT them from importing the toxic chinese chicken BEFORE they get permission. Supposedly, it is NOT yet happening, therefore there are no numbers to give to you. You don't think that preventing millions of American children from being POISONED by toxic chinese "food" is worthy of congress? Personally, I don't think you are worthy of breathing MY air.
  3. Kimberly: These are legitimate questions but they are answered in the petition.

    The approval of four Chinese plants for chicken processing took place at the end of August. As of now, no company is yet importing Chinese-processed chicken into this country but that door is now open.

    Of greater concern is that USDA approval of processing is widely viewed as a step toward the eventual opening of our borders to raw, Chinese-slaughtered poultry in exchange for China opening up its markets to our beef. (China is one of the largest beef consumers in the world but has refused to import our beef since a mad cow scare in 2003.)

    Given the many food safety concerns outlined in the petition, we would like to prevent the use of Chinese-processed chicken in school meals (where they reach an economically dependent and more vulnerable population) and we would like to prevent the importation of raw Chinese poultry.

    I hope this answers your questions about the petition.

    - Bettina
  4. Edward Rutledge
    I'm glad that this is happening, maybe people will start to wake to the fact that all industrial animal food is produced at the cost of enormous suffering to billions of living beings and is the leading cause of environmental damage on the planet. So don't bother me with petitions to help protect your children from having some Chinese slime in their mcnuggets, wake up and stop participating in all animal consumption for their own health and that of the planet and all living beings..

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