From The Economist blog:
Food safety: Not yum!
JUST a few months ago a meat-processing plant in Shanghai’s Jiading district won a food safety award. Shanghai Husi Food, one of several such facilities in China owned by OSI Group, an American firm that sells meat products to the world’s leading fast-food chains, was named an “Advanced Unit (A-Class) of Safe Food Production” by local authorities.
Not quite. A hidden-camera exposé, done by local reporters, appears to show workers at the plant relabelling expired meat as fresh and handling food with bare hands. It appeared that the floor of the processing plant was covered with rubbish and sewage, and meat was scooped up off the floor and thrown into mixers. Rotting meat was apparently mixed together with fresh meat and packaged for sale. In this and other ways, the A-Class plant made a mockery of “safe food production.”
The shockwaves rippled through deep fryers across the land. It turns out that OSI is an important supplier to such fast-food chains as McDonald’s and Yum Brands, which controls KFC and Pizza Hut. Both firms immediately halted sale of meat processed by OSI. Starbucks, an American coffee purveyor, pulled from its shelves chicken paninis that contained questionable meat. At least nine big chains, including two Chinese firms and the Japanese arms of several multinationals, are affected.
This is but the latest in a never-ending series of food-safety scandals in China. As usual, the firm at the heart of the controversy claims it is pure as the driven snow. Officials at OSI’s headquarters say they are shocked by the allegations, and insist that if they are true they are anomalies. The damage to the firm’s reputation (which, to be fair, had previously been good) may be hard to repair.
Five officials from the company’s Shanghai operations, including the head of the firm and its quality manager, were detained this week by police. China’s Food and Drug Administration is now investigating the company’s operations in five other provinces. Most damningly, an official declared that the illegal activities “are not the behaviour of a certain individual, but an organised arrangement.”
This latest Chinese food scandal comes not long after the USDA approved the import of chicken processed in China directly into the U.S. China now joins Canada, Chile, France and Israel as countries permitted to export processed chicken into the U.S. But, not to worry, according to the USDA, “Consumers should know that any processed poultry from China will be produced under equivalent food-safety standards and conditions as U.S. poultry.” Isn’t that reassuring?
Any chicken processed in China and imported into the U.S., strangely enough, will likely be made from chickens raised in the U.S., since the U.S. exports hundreds of millions of dollars worth of chicken to China every year, and since that number continues to rise. Recently China lifted a 7-year ban on importation of Virginia chicken, to the delight of our agricultural establishment, and the big chicken companies are busy building new chicken factories here to meet the Chinese demand. Nearby Bedford County just voted to change its setback laws in order to permit the building of chicken CAFOs, for example, citing new markets in China as a reason.
So we’ll be raising chickens in American CAFOs, and fattening them on subsidized GMO grain. Those who survive the hellish conditions will be slaughtered here. The breasts (sans bones and skin) will stay here to satisfy the ever-increasing American demand for boneless skinless breasts, while the rest of the bird will be frozen and floated across two oceans to China, to be converted into chicken nuggets in places like Shanghai Husi Food.
As Joel Salatin likes to say, “Folks, this ain’t normal.”
Why not just say no to globalized food? Buy delicious, humanely-raised whole chickens from local farmers you know and trust instead. You’ll have to pay more than they’re charging at Yum Brands. But stories like this one reveal why.