UPDATED 10/14/15 4:56 p.m.
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — At a time when more and more consumers are looking to buy locally grown foods, you may be shocked to find out the road that your chicken will travel to reach your dinner table.
As CBS2’s Maurice Dubois reported, it’s part of an effort to save some large poultry manufacturers money, but food safety experts are crying over the long distance chicken.
When you buy chicken at your favorite supermarket it typically travels about a thousand miles to get there, but soon that same chicken will travel up to 15,000 miles.
That’s because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to let large chicken manufacturers send birds, slaughtered here, to China for processing, and then back to the U.S. for sale.
“The reason for this, we believe, is to out-source for the same reason companies of all stripes are trying to out-source to China,” food safety expert Alex Beauchamp said.
In the U.S. the average wage for a poultry processor is about $11 an hour, according to experts, in China it’s less than $2.
“Labor is cheaper and the regulation, frankly, is nonexistent,” Beauchamp said.
The move has food safety experts concerned.
“The Chinese food safety system is in no way equivalent to ours and shouldn’t be treated as such,” Beauchamp said.
Beauchamp pointed to China’s track record with several large-scale food contamination scandals.
The USDA however told CBS2 that the agency is establishing a three-part system to ensure all chicken sent to China for processing will be handled the same way it would in the United States, and added that all products will “undergo re-inspection at U.S. ports of entry.”
“Food has been commoditized over the last few decades where the only thing that matters is price,” said Paul Alward of Hudson Valley Harvest.
Alward is the co-founder of Hudson Valley Harvest, a small food company, that distributes the goods of fifty local farmers including chicken. He said the plan, regardless of how much money it might save, seems counter-productive. Especially at a time when consumers are increasingly concerned with the origin of their food.
“Food is supposed to taste good with flavor and nutrition, not being trucked from halfway across the globe,” he said.
As of now, only processed chicken like chicken nuggets and buffalo wings will fall under the plan.
There are fears that it will eventually apply to all chicken and consumers won’t know it because it’s not required to be written on the label.
At every turn, we have this industrialized food system that seems intent on making it harder for people to know where their food is coming from,” Beauchamp said.
CBS2 asked the USDA for the names of U.S. manufacturers sending food to China for processing, they said none have started yet.
In a statement sent to CBS2, the National Chicken Council released the following statement:
“Just because USDA deemed China’s poultry processing (fully cooked products) equivalent to U.S. standards, it doesn’t mean they are or will send chicken here. More than likely, it is a sense of pride for them, and will use the equivalency to ship to other Asian countries. We don’t need an oven 7,000 miles away to cook chicken for us. As your story notes, no U.S. companies have, or have plans to, send chicken to China to be processed and sent back to the U.S.”