Now imagine this scenario. Seven thousand miles away in China, at a decrepit meat processing plant proclaiming its name as Shanghai Husi, the following takes place. Apathetic workers stand behind piles of unprocessed meat that litter a filthy floor. They try to avoid stepping on the stacks of food as they go about their routine, but often do not. Expiration dates on bags of chicken which has sat around for weeks are changed as if it were business as usual.
When bags are too light, they walk to the rear of the facility and grab from a fetid pile of meat which is literally months old. Arms full, they begin their laborious trundle back to the production line with a look of satisfaction. By adding this ancient meat, they will hit their production quotas. “Anything to keep the boss off my back,” they mumble as they mix in the ancient fowl.
At precisely the same time you clear off your table and follow your children to the exit, that worker in China tosses the processed meat into a box marked “Processed – Ship to USA”.
How does reading this make you feel?
“Surely this cannot be true,” you think. “Food safety scandals are China’s problem, not our own.”
Coming Soon to a Plate Near You
Unfortunately China’s food safety problems are just that, they are ours too. (1) The scene described above occurred in China and the description of the conditions are accurate. The bad news is that this specific plant is one of the many that was approved to process chicken sold in the USA. At the time of this writing, that Chinese factory had not yet sent food to America, but it did ship to Japan.
At the end of the article, you can get involved. Sign a petition to make sure that the bag of fetid chicken never reaches America’s shores.
…Given Chinese processors’ poor track record with regard to food-safety standards, the USDA should be taking every possible step to ensure that the chicken that ends up on our plates and in our McNuggets is safe,” Schumer (D-NY) (2).
Before you get upset with the Chinese for attempting to poison us, consider that Shanghai Husi is run by an American company called OSI Group LLC. This should not be surprising, however. Companies such as OSI frequently move their operations to China because it is convenient.
Why bother with pesky things such as sanitation and keeping track of just how long that chicken has been laying out? Such things only add cost to the operations but do not drive revenue. Being profit oriented, these firms turn a blind eye to what is happening in their Chinese plants. And the Chinese accommodate them.
American Auditors Give Shanghai Husi and Others a Clean Bill of Health
Is there anything to worry about? After all, a series of whirlwind inspections ensured that the Shanghai Husi plant mentioned met the exacting quality standards set out by American law. In fact, this honor bestowed upon them by the USDA dates back to 2004. Based on these inspections and subsequent clean bill of health, that exact same Chinese plant has been cleared to handle and process the food you and your family may consume.
In order to assuage consumer fears of this move, we were assured that only the best Chinese plants would be allowed this privilege of handling America-bound food. The USDA was on the ball, or so we thought.
What most people did not realize is how chaotic and hard to control Chinese plants are. Descriptions at the OSI Group LLC plant mentioned above are downright horrific.
According to reports from Chinese news, it was common for workers at the Chinese branch of OSI Group to disregard food safety laws. As reported above, it was customary to not waste the product even if beyond date of expiry. They were also informed when food safety inspection teams would be coming and cleaned up their act. Disregarding the law was a common practice.
In China, communist party members have incredible power. They can shut down a plant at their discretion. The way to keep them at bay is with bribes. An associate of mine explained that Chinese health inspectors would show up at his restaurant and point out various infractions, whether real or imagined. After an exchange of cash, all was forgotten, and the inspectors left. My associate was not required to make any changes.
It’s a bankrupt system… audits are normally scheduled ahead of time …It’s become a way for people to abdicate their responsibilities for the safety of the food …they are selling.” (3)
This is the most-obvious form of fraud, but companies in China can be much more devious as well. Consider to what lengths Chinese suppliers will go to hide sketchy and unsafe practices. When auditors arrive, the supplier may show them only a part of the facility, one which has been thoroughly cleansed and all evidence of untoward practices expunged.
In more extreme measures, suppliers take inspectors to a fake plant. (3) Such plants can be set up for this express purpose. They act as a clean room to prove the quality of the work done there. In fact, the meat consumers eventually eat was never processed there. Chinese suppliers hide the ugly truth from inspectors so they can shed their plant in a positive light. They prepare for visits accordingly (3).
References & Image Credits:
(1) TSW: How You Can Prevent China Processed Chicken from Reaching US Shores
(2) TSW: Domestic Chicken to Be Processed in China: Why We Should Be Concerned
(4) Artbandito via Compfight cc
(5) my_amii via Compfight cc
(6) Tom Simpson via photopin cc