HOUSTON - Scan the grocery aisles and look closely at the labels, and you'll find fruits, fish and even organic vegetables that are all products of China. Now, there's new concern that chicken may be next.
"I thought this makes no sense," said Bettina Siegel, a Houston mom and food activist. "Why are we going to take chicken grown in America, ship it all the way to China for processing and ship it all the way back? It made no sense at all to me."
Siegel is trying to stop US poultry companies from shipping chicken to China then back here for us to eat. While there's no evidence the change is happening yet, a new federal rule now allows it.
"Now we have a law which says we can slaughter a US chicken, freeze its carcass and send it to China by boat," said Aleda Roth, a distinguished professor of supply chain management at Clemson University and a 2013 faculty fellow at the Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Study. "Then we unfreeze it over there, pluck it, process it, cook it again, re-freeze it, package it and send it back to the United States. It sounds crazy, but some companies will do anything to save a nickel."
Inexpensive labor costs could make the process in China cheaper than US processing plants, but Roth and Siegel are worried about China's food safety record, environmental pollution, and lack of testing or inspections.
"My research indicated that it (Chinese-processed chicken) could show up in school meals," Siegel said. "Kids are the most vulnerable population when it comes to foodborne illness. That was really a concern to me."
Her concern prompted an online petition with more than 300,000 signatures urging Congress to change the new rule. Siegel also took her worries to an HISD food committee.
"What I'm worried about is that it's going to take a real food safety problem to get everyone's attention," Siegel. "That's the last thing we want to happen."
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