retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Two chicken-related stories this morning…

• The Los Angeles Times reports that a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers - 12 Democratic and two Republican members of the US House of Representatives - wants to pass legislation that would ensure that "chicken processed in China is not included in the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Food and Summer Food Service programs."

As previously reported on MNB, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has ruled that chicken processed in China can be imported to the US, but only on the condition that the chickens were not actually hatched and raised in China. This led to speculation that chickens from the US could be sent to China to be processed, and then returned to the US to be sold … which in turn led to concerns because of China's recent at-best spotty record when it comes to food safety issues.

The lawmakers enumerated some of those issues in a letter issued this week: "Consider the impact of China's weak enforcement of food safety laws and regulations; more than 300,000 Chinese children fell seriously ill, with some dying, from melamine-tainted milk powder; dangerously high levels of mercury found in Chinese baby formula; the sale of more than $1 million worth of rat and other small mammal meat passed off to consumers as lamb; and more than 16,000 diseased pig carcasses dumped in a river to rot.

"Last year China Central Television revealed that a Chinese poultry supplier provided Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants with chicken fattened by large quantities of illegal drugs. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced that, since 2007, pet treats imported from China containing contaminated chicken have killed 600 dogs and cats in the United States and sickened 3,600 more. According to the World Health Organization, so far 45 of the 136 people who contracted the H7N9 bird flu in China this year have died."

• At the same time, the Los Angeles Times also reports that poultry in the US is "fraught" with food safety risks being insufficiently dealt with by the inspection infrastructure.

"That’s the view," the Times writes, "of two reports released Thursday. The first, by the Pew Charitable Trusts, examines two recent salmonella outbreaks linked to Foster Farms chicken and concludes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) lacks the authority to properly protect the public.

The second, released by Consumer Reports magazine, tested more than 300 store-bought chicken breasts and found bacteria lurking in almost every one.

"At the core of both findings are calls to strengthen government oversight in the $70-billion poultry industry. Doing so would help reduce incidents of food-borne illness, which sickens 48 million people and kills 3,000 in the U.S every year."
KC's View:
So let me get this straight…

At the same time as there are studies out there suggesting that food safety in chicken ain't what it used to be, the road is being cleared so that chicken can be sold in the US that has been processed in a country where food safety problems are both systematic and systemic.


Retailers especially need to pay attention to these issues, being both vigilant and reassuring (when appropriate), because at the end of the day, consumers are going to hold them responsible. And should.