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US lawmaker: Import laws should be reviewed

The USDA should review its system for approving meat imports because it gives up too much control over food safety to foreign countries, Reuters has reported an influential lawmaker as saying.

A move by the USDA earlier this decade toward allowing imports of Chinese poultry demonstrates that trade concerns play too great a role in what should be a public health issue, said US Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who heads the House committee in charge of appropriating money to the department.

"I think we need to take a hard look at overhauling the way the US deems other nations' food safety rules equivalent to the US system," DeLauro said. "When you grant equivalency, you lose most of the control of the process," said DeLauro, whose committee has prevented the USDA from allowing imports of Chinese chicken, and has proposed that the ban continue through 2010.

DeLauro said other food safety scandals in China make her doubt whether U.S. importers could be assured Chinese poultry products had been properly cooked.

The Senate has not yet passed its version of the bill that includes the ban on Chinese chicken, but has proposed special inspections that would allow for the imports.

The ban has raised hackles in China, which recently stopped issuing import permits for US chicken, threatening the top market for US poultry, worth almost $700 mln per year, Reuters reports.

China has launched a complaint at the World Trade Organization about the ban.

US law allows any of the other 152 countries that belong to the WTO to apply to export meat to the US. A coalition of meat companies and trade groups told a hearing on the issue that it was unfair that China has been singled out for its poultry.

"We will not be able to avoid a serious trade confrontation with China if Congress does not reconsider its ban," trade lawyer Kevin Brosch said, speaking for the coalition, which includes the biggest US meat companies, including Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill, Seaboard, Sanderson Farms, Pilgrim's Pride, Smithfield Foods, and Hormel Foods.

Source: Reuters

Natalie Berkhout

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