The claim: The USDA is preparing to ship chicken to China for processing and then return it to the US
Almost 10 years ago, the Department of Agriculture gave Chinese processing plants the greenlight to process raw poultry from the US and export cooked products — such as canned chicken noodle soup and chicken nuggets — back to America.
However, some social media posts are claiming that China is about to deliver processed US chickens to America for the first time.
“USDA is preparing to ship our chicken to China for processing, and then be sent back to us. WHY?????” reads a July 2 Facebook post that was shared more than 400 times in three days.
But this claim is misleading. A handful of Chinese processing plants have been allowed to use raw poultry raised in the US and export cooked products back for years.
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USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the claim for comment.
Chinese facilities have been eligible to process US chicken for nearly a decade
China has been able to process chicken from the United States since 2013, when four chicken processors were approved to export cooked poultry products from birds raised in the US, Canada and Chile. Politico and The New York Times reported about concerns over Chinese chicken exports reaching the American market, with the latter reporting that the country “does not have the best track record for food safety.”
Under the rules, chicken processed in China would not require country-of-origin labeling, meaning consumers would not know “if the chicken came from Chinese processing plants,” according to the Times.
In 2017, the rules were changed, and the first known shipment of cooked chicken from poultry raised in China arrived in the US, according to the Washington Post. It came after a trade deal, supported by then-President Donald Trump, to send more US beef to China while receiving more Chinese poultry in the US, the Post reported.
In a July 8 email to USA TODAY, a spokesperson for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that rigorous standards are used when inspecting food from China. “FSIS’ process for ensuring the safety of imported meat, poultry, and egg products is rigorous and mandates that the exporting country has an equivalent food safety inspection system, which means that it achieves a level of public health protection equivalent to FSIS’ robust inspection system,” the spokesperson said.
Fact-check: Smithfield Foods is not selling meat that was slaughtered, processed in China
China’s food safety system for poultry received the “equivalent” designation in 2019, when the USDA said a review of the country’s poultry laws and regulations found that they were “equivalent to the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), the regulations implementing this statute, and the United States’ food safety system for poultry.”
As part of that equivalence decision, which the spokesperson said came after “extensive documentation” and audits, China was also permitted to export processed chicken products from birds slaughtered and processed in “certified [Chinese] establishments.”
A report by the USDA said China exported more than 50 metric tons of prepared or preserved chicken meat to the United States in 2021. The report did not specify how much, if any, of that quantity was from birds raised and slaughtered in the United States , sent to China for processing and returned to the country.
As of June 2, four processing plants were eligible to export cooked poultry products to the United States, with the most recent added to the USDA’s list in May 2020.
National Chicken Council spokesperson Tom Super described the Facebook post as “fake news” in a July 12 email to USA TODAY. Super said there “have not been any shipments of US chicken sent to China to be processed and sent back here.”
“It makes zero economic sense to do so, especially in light of record input costs, and sky-high shipping and freight costs,” Super said.
Our rating: Missing context
Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that the USDA is preparing to ship chicken to China for processing and then return it to the United States. In 2013, several Chinese facilities were approved to export to the US poultry products from chickens raised in America. The regulations were expanded years later to include chickens slaughtered in China.
Our fact-check sources:
- Tom Super, July 12, Email to USA TODAY
- National Chicken Council, accessed July 11, CHINA/IMPORTS: IS MY CHICKEN COMING FROM CHINA, OR OTHER COUNTRIES?
- USDA, July 8, Email to USA TODAY
- USDA, June 2, The People’s Republic of China – Eligible Plants Certified to Export Meat and Poultry to the United States
- USDA, July 27, 2021, Poultry and Products Annual Report for China
- USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Nov. 8, 2019, Eligibility of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) To Export to the United States Poultry Products From Birds Slaughtered in the PRC
- The Washington Post, July 7, 2017, The dark side of Trump’s much-hyped China trade deal: It could literally make you sick
- Akron Beacon Journal, Oct. 25, 2013, Ruling opens door to US sales of chicken from China
- Politico, Aug. 30, 2013, Audit OKs Chinese poultry plants
- The New York Times, Aug. 30, 2013, Chinese Chicken Processors Are Cleared to Ship to US
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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.