Capitol Hill Looks Hard at Dog Treats and Processed Chicken from China

By Matthew McMullan

Feeding the family dog a biscuit may not turn out to be such a treat after all.

1,000 dogs have died, 10 percent of America’s pig population is gone, 5,600 more pets are sick, and three people are ill. And poor safety measures in China may be the cause.

A hearing on “Pet Treats and Processed Chicken from China: And Concerns for American Consumers and Pets,” chaired by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, was held earlier this week in an attempt to clarify the issue.

Labels and a lack of transparency may be the reason health safety has gotten lost in the back-and-forth between China and the US. Last year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowed processed chicken to be exported from China; but this has spiraled into confusion over where food is made, and regulation has become lost in the process.

"The word of the Chinese government is usually not trustworthy,"Smith said."There's always laced in there a whole deal of misinformation, lying and deceit. It's not a stretch to say if we rely on them for documentation, that's an Achilles heel that is huge."

Brown, for his part, questioned the accuracy of “Made in the USA” labels pet food and processed chicken, and the safety of those products that had no label at all. 

“Americans want and require better answers, clearer labels, and the peace of mind that the foods we import from China are safe,” he said.

"I'll have to get back to you on that."

The first two panel witnesses were Tracey Forfa of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Dr. Daniel Engeljohn of the USDA.

Dr. Engeljohn explained the mandate of the Office of Field Operations, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) under the USDA. The FSIS has a three-part process to examine and inspect all slaughtered and processed livestock and poultry before human consumption.

“The agency doesn’t have any information about how much processed product it expects China to ship once certification is up and running,” he said.

Forfa was asked if chicken from China might potentially infiltrate school lunches.

“I’ll have to get back to you on that,” she replied.

According to the FDA’s May report specifically addressing jerky pet treats, they have been aware of the growing number of pets that have become ill from eating the treats for the past seven years. The report even prompted Petco and Petsmart to issue statements saying they would no longer retail pet treats manufactured in China. 

But the lack of confidence and hesitation to give definitive answers from some of the witnesses reinforces the need for clarity on edible Chinese exports.

Brown announces amendment

Following the hearing Sen. Brown announced he is introducing an amendment to the 2015 Agriculture Appropriations Bill to address the safety of exports from China’s food-processing facilities.  The amendment would require the FDA and USDA to update Congress on their efforts to obtain Chinese work visas for U.S. food safety inspectors, as well as on the adequacy of their investigations into processing facilities. 

The reasoning behind that amendment is pretty simple: We need to know the food we eat and which we feed to our pets won’t kill us or make us sick. Is that too much to ask?  

This post was researched and writtten by AAM interns Lauren Pak and Pamela Tom-Jack.