by Daniel Schueppert, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
The USDA has recently lifted restrictions on the practice of shipping US Chicken to China for processing, for an eventual return to the US. Under the present regulations, chicken originating from US farms can be shipped to China for processing, then shipped back to the US for sale. This chicken need not include Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) to indicate that it has been processed in China. This change comes in the wake of a years of food safety scares relating to China’s food supply. Although the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has completed audits of the China’s “poultry processing inspection system” and certified some of the Chinese processing plants and procedures, American consumers have retained some reservations about the safety of chicken processed in China. As it stands, this system leaves consumers in the position of not knowing which country their chicken products have been processed because the Chinese operations are considered a comparable food component to what results from US processing.
This recent action by the USDA clearly raises questions concerning the United States’ food safety, and perhaps security. A sophisticated consumer may nevertheless be able avoid chicken products known to be processed in China, but absent COOL disclosures this may be a difficult task and arguably involve some guess work. This is not necessarily the case with generic pharmaceuticals, an area in which there are substantial parallels to the chicken debate. Some of the concerns raised relating to the quality and safety of chicken processed in China also bring to light the COOL requirements for other consumables like pharmaceuticals. Import screening and labeling for pharmaceuticals, and particularly off patent generics, is a convoluted area of regulatory law where Federal agencies to not always agree. Currently many of the various components of just one pharmaceutical drug are manufactured all over the world and come from a variety of sources. Manufacturing in India, China, and Eastern Europe account for a large part of the market.
The FDA’s main measure on determining the quality of components in generic drugs is a fuzzy spectrum concerning the “bioavailability” of certain chemicals but this measure does not necessarily take account of inert components or varying quality or quantities of active ingredients. Much like chicken, a consumer or regulatory agency would be hard pressed to find a problem with these products until a quality control issue develops and American consumers are put at risk. COOL labeling regarding Chicken and Drugs are developing issues without a clear regulatory action in sight. Stay tuned to the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology for further updates.