As if our anxieties about meat aren't high enough, and its morality and safety don't already keep us up at night, now there's something even more alarming to consider: The U.S. has just given the go-ahead for a handful of Chinese poultry plants to begin processing chicken for the American market.

A story yesterday in Salon details the myriad problems with chicken, produced here in the U.S., as well as the dangers of outsourcing the processing of chicken to China. In this country, eight billion chickens are raised and slaughtered annually, and most of them are done so in a way that is fairly horrific, from cruelty, environmental and worker rights standpoints. Food safety is also a concern, and the potential outsourcing to China only exacerbates all of these issues, particularly the last one.

As the Salon story reports:

Meat is already the No. 1 contributor to climate change. Don't expect shipping slaughtered chickens seven thousand miles to China and then bringing them back as processed food to lower that carbon footprint. And of course, the Chinese poultry industry has its own dirty laundry, including a current bird flu outbreak, believed to have “evolved from migratory birds via waterfowl to poultry and into people,” and already responsible for forty-four deaths; the sale of forty-six year old chicken feet; and exporting tainted dog treats, sickening nearly a thousand American pets.

Even if the Chinese facilities were subject to U.S. poultry farm inspection processes, consumers still could not be guaranteed the products' safety. But the Chinese factories turning American-raised chickens into American-sold chicken nuggets won't even have that. According to the New York Times, no USDA officials will be on site – the processors will simply self-verify the source of the poultry being processed. “And because the poultry will be processed,” the Times continues, “it will not require country-of-origin labeling.”

The story admits that while the processing of chickens in China for U.S. consumption now has the potential to start, it has a lot of hurdles before becoming a reality — mainly because it's hard to see how to make the process economically viable. The story goes on to say: “Makes you wonder what corners will be cut to make it worth the effort.”

The scariest thing about all this is that there will be no way of knowing where the chicken in your canned soup comes from. Many of us make ourselves feel better by buying fresh meats from butchers or traceable, local meats from grocery stores, but we don't think as much about the meats contained in processed foods. Yet that's exactly where you'd be likely to find chicken processed in China, if that were to become a norm. Not that it would be labeled as such — it wouldn't.

For some serious chicken nerd reading on the state of big chicken, read this 8,000 word story about the two directions chicken producing in Georgia (the main source of chicken in the U.S.) is heading, and for more on the China angle, read this Politico story about the audit that gives China the go-ahead to process chicken for U.S. consumption.

And in the meantime, maybe consider that backyard chicken coop.

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