Some residents in the county are concerned about a recent decision by the U.S. government to allow poultry processed in China to be imported to America.
According to a USDA audit report released Aug. 30, China's inspection system for processed poultry meets the U.S. equivalent, which will allow China to export processed poultry to the U.S. However, the exported chicken may not have been raised or slaughtered in China, even if it is processed there, according to the audit report.
The chicken will have to come from the United States or Canada, although some are concerned about the fact that there will be no U.S. inspectors at Chinese plants to ensure this. The processed chicken product must also be fully cooked, according to the audit report. The USDA inspected four poultry processing establishments in China over a 60-day period to make the determination.
The chicken processed in China would not have to be labeled, according to media reports.
The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service will audit China's poultry processing system annually, and China must ensure that it is using a standardized method that allows it to provide information on its food inspection process, according to the USDA website. Chicken products shipped to the U.S. will also be inspected regularly, according to the USDA.
If China is found to be exporting products that do not meet U.S. standards, the country will be disqualified from exporting chicken to the U.S., according to the USDA.
Despite the USDA's inspections, some are still concerned that poultry coming from China will not be up to U.S. standards.
"I just wonder what kind of inspection they come from and whether their standard is as high as ours," said Larry Mickley, store manager of Bullock's Country Meats & Farm Market in Westminster.
He worried that such a move could hurt the poultry industry in the U.S.
According to media reports, China has had chicken products recalled in the past due to safety hazards. A recent outbreak of bird flu in China also has some worried.
"How much stuff is imported from China?" Mickley asked. "Now we have to get into the food chain?"
Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., said he thought it would be hard for Chinese processors to make money off of the current regulations. Under the rules, Chinese processors would have to pay for U.S. and Canadian chickens to be shipped to China, and then the companies would have to process them and ship them back to the U.S.
"I don't know how they are going to make a profit on that," Satterfield said, whose group works to advance the chicken industry in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. "I think economics are going to drive this thing."
He said he was unsure if the USDA's approval is just one step toward allowing imports of chickens raised in China into the U.S., as some have speculated. There are other countries that are already allowed to export chickens into the U.S., he said, including Israel, Canada, Chile and France. Even though those countries export to the U.S., he said they have not been able to make much of a dent in the strong poultry industry.
"There is plenty of good American chicken produced right here," he said.
Consumers should not worry too much if, indeed, the standards for inspection in China are equivalent to the ones in the U.S., said Robert Buchanan, professor and director of the University of Maryland's Center for Food Safety and Security Systems.
He said under a World Trade Organization agreement, the U.S. likely has to allow processed poultry to be imported into the U.S. The WTO agreement dictates that food that is equivalent in safety should be allowed to be imported into other countries, he said.
Buchanan said he found it surprising China would want to import poultry into the U.S., given that it may not be too profitable to do so. He said the U.S. has a very strong poultry industry.
"I am curious to see how it goes and how long they are going to be competitive," he said.