Why did the chicken cross the road? To get on a ship in China

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So, the U.S. Senate and House have agreed that it is now time to give consumers another Chinese product to help lower production costs, create more jobs overseas and increase corporate profits: chicken.

Chinese chicken imports had been banned for the past couple of years after Congress put the kibosh on a trade plan from the Bush administration in 2007. A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection of Chinese poultry plants in 2004 documented poor sanitary conditions.

But the Obama administration appears to have succeeded where Bush failed, convincing Congress that Chinese chickens are good for relations with our manufacturing friends in the Far East.

Politics is great for delivering examples of how failure can be a good thing.

Shouldn't the line be drawn somewhere? Processed chicken seems like a good place to start.

Let's be clear: Chinese products are with us everywhere and the lower prices that come with them have become addictive to consumers.

Electronic equipment, toys, and even candy comes here by the freighter load and consumers buy it by the truckload. Some of it -- not that China has cornered the market on it -- is utter junk. And products made in China tend not only dominate what we find in discount stores, but also the list of products that are recalled due to defects or violations of safety rules.

American companies, such as chicken-producing giant Tyson Foods, played a role in pushing for the agreement that will open the doors to Chinese chicken products in the U.S. It owns chicken farms in China, and stands to profit mightily from the lower cost of doing business in China. Who can blame them?

The Chinese track record with food safety is abysmal. Less than a year ago, Chinese health officials (pictured above) killed and disposed of tens of thousands of chickens exposed to the avian flu. That was about the same time nearly 300,000 Chinese babies took ill after drinking melamine-tainted powdered milk. And, as it turns out, melamine also was found in chicken feed and, of course, in Chinese chicken products.

But Congress agreed to open the markets here to Chinese chicken provided an inspection process was instituted that supposedly would ensure Chinese chicken production would meet U.S. standards. That provision crumbled the opposition. U.S. Rep. Rosa Delauro, D-Conn., previously an opponent, explained in an article she penned for Roll Call that enough safeguards have been put in place for her to support the new plan.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who has urged toughness regarding Chinese imports without a lot of success, said the whole issue comes down to a game of chicken.

""The Chinese don't play fair, and we've been cowards," the senator told Fortune. "Every time China threatens, we back off."

The U.S. market for apple juice (what's more American than that?) is dominated by products whose roots are a powdery concentrate shipped on freighters in 55-gallon drums from where else but China. Most U.S. consumers don't care, or at least don't pay much attention, to China being the nation of origin of most of the "juice" in drink boxes and apple juice bottles sold in this country. And since no big problems have been reported with Chinese apple products they have become ubiquitous here. Only a handful of companies claim to only use U.S.-grown apples.

Not long ago I bought a piece of frozen salmon in a package. Even though I obsessively check certain products for nation of origin labeling, I didn't notice this one until it was too late: China. My salmon was from China. I have lived in Alaska and fished salmon from Nushagak Bay on the Bering Sea coast. To the fine people there, I apologize.

Perhaps it is a simplistic notion or overly protectionist, but with the backdrop of millions of recalled products, melamine-tainted food and bird flu on the resume of the nation of origin, is it too much to ask of the U.S. government to refrain from giving passports to millions of pounds of processed Chinese chicken products?


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