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Chinese chicken

(article, Culinate staff)

Not only has the global chicken population boomed in recent years, it's going truly worldwide. The USDA has just announced approval of a plan to ship U.S.-grown chicken to China for processing and re-import the meat to the States. Unsurprisingly, this concept has sparked criticism, ranging from food safety to labeling to antibiotics.

On her Wired blog, Maryn McKenna summed it all up succinctly: "Developing-world labor, and containerized shipping . . . are both so inexpensive that it is cheaper to send a chicken nugget around the world to be ground, formed and breaded than to do all that in the place where the chicken was raised."

The food-safety concerns include the lengthy transit time between the two countries, China's poor food-safety record in general, and the lack of on-site inspection in Chinese chicken-processing plants. As for labeling, there won't be any; U.S. consumers won't know whether their chicken products were produced in China or not. 

And the antibiotics issue — an old problem that's helped speed up the development of antiobiotic-resistant superbugs — is getting lots of press these days for its possible role in helping to cause obesity. The logic: Antibiotics may be killing off the beneficial gut bacteria we need to properly digest our food — which may be partly why both factory-farmed animals fed low levels of antibiotics, and the humans who eat their meat, get fat and stay fat.