U.S. and China in Chicken Trade Fight

Last Updated Jul 22, 2009 12:45 PM EDT

China is not happy about the United States' refusal to import poultry from China. According to China, the policy is discriminatory and breaks international trade rules.

But the U.S. says its import decisions are based on scientific safety standards and are therefore not illegal or discriminatory. The U.S. blocked China's attempt to set up a World Trade Organization panel to investigate the matter, though China will try again later this month.

Both countries stopped importing poultry from the other in 2004 because of bird flu. But China has gone back to importing U.S. poultry, while the U.S. has not reciprocated.

In recent months, the outbreak of swine flu has led to bans on pork imports around the world, despite any lack of connection between the illness and actual consumption of meat. Beef imports have suffered similarly over the years in response to Mad Cow.

But China is a special case. Its record for food safety has been less than stellar, with melamine contamination being only the most high-profile among several safety-related scandals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set up some satellite offices in China to help improve the situation, but China is huge and the FDA can't even properly regulate food in the U.S.

The U.S. poultry industry supports China's demands, however -- not because of any strong opinion on China's food safety record, but rather because it doesn't want China to retaliate by blocking U.S. imports.

Which raises the question... why the heck are both countries sending each other poultry in the first place? Why do we need chickens from halfway around the world if we already have our own? It just doesn't seem like the most efficient way to do things. Please enlighten me if I'm missing something here.

  • Katherine Glover