A health organization is accusing the Obama administration of allowing "trade to trump food safety" by opening the U.S. market to Korean poultry, despite a recent outbreak of the bird flu there and other health inspection violations.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a rule Wednesday that would allow South Korean farmers to sell chicken products to the United States.
Food & Water Watch suggested Wednesday that the Obama administration is pandering to the South Korean government to convince it to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade agreement the United States is currently negotiating with about a dozen Pacific countries.
Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter called it an "irresponsible" decision by the USDA.
"This final rule may be a little goodie that the U.S. is using to entice South Korea to join Trans-Pacific Partnership talks," Hauter said in a statement.
"Once again, it may yet be another instance of the Obama administration allowing trade to trump food safety," she added.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed the rule in January 2013, at which time Hauter warned that it would be an "unwise" decision. But the agency announced Tuesday it is moving forward with the rule.
A severe case of the bird flu, also known as avian influenza, broke out in South Korea earlier this year and may have spread to other parts of Asia.
Other cases of the bird flu have killed people in China.
The bird flu is spread among birds, but it can also pass to people who come in contact with those birds.
According to WebMD, a health website, people can catch the bird flu by plucking feathers from infected birds, cleaning their cages, or swimming in water that contains bird feces, among other things.
Though people cannot catch the bird flu by eating fully cooked chicken, it may be possible to contract it by preparing infected meat.
Food & Water Watch also pointed to health inspection violations in South Korea that are cause for concern, the group says.
The USDA would still require Korean poultry to be inspected at the border before it enters the U.S. market. The rule is scheduled to go into effect on May 27.