Senate, House disagree on Chinese chicken ban

A lobbying push by agribusinesses to end a ban on the importation of cooked chicken from China has made headway in the Senate but continues to face a hurdle in the House.

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According to more than 50 business groups, including the National Chicken Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the ban could lead China to retaliate by blocking the importation of American farm products.

“At a time when U.S. producers are seeking to sell their goods and services abroad during a difficult global economic crisis, it is vital we uphold our trade obligations, lest we find access to vital overseas markets cut off to American products,” the groups wrote.

Although Chinese officials have not set official policy, some American chicken producers have reported difficulty in getting permits to import their products to that the country, according to Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council. He said his group was watching the debate with “great interest.”

The House approved an agriculture appropriations bill on Thursday that continued to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Safety Inspection Service from implementing a rule that would allow the importation of cooked chicken products from China.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chairwoman of the agriculture spending panel who has led the effort to maintain the ban, believes that the agriculture department did not adequately evaluate China’s food safety system prior to issuing the rule. The rule would allow processed chicken imports from China so long as the chicken originally came from either the U.S. or Canada.

“Decisions about the importation of food products from China are a public health issue that must not be entangled in trade discussions,” DeLauro said.

The Senate ag appropriations bill, meanwhile, would allow the Department of Agriculture to implement its rule if certain conditions were met.

The agriculture secretary would have to conduct audits of inspection systems, on-site review of slaughter and processing facilities, laboratories and other control operation before any Chinese facilities were deemed eligible to import chicken products to the United States, under the Senate bill.

Three farm state House Republicans wrote a letter to colleagues last week prior to the vote warning that a Chinese ban on American chicken imports would cost American producers around $370 million in lost business for the rest of the year.

“This chicken provision is pointless and dangerous,” Reps. Jack Kingston of Georgia, Dave Camp of Michigan and Kevin Brady of Texas wrote.