Category Archives: US Commerce Department

UK Fear: Brexit Could ‘Force’ Chlorinated Chicken Imports From US

chicken-chlorinated

TheConversation.com

“If and when Brexit happens, the UK may well be obliged to accept chlorinated poultry as part of any separate trade deal with the US. Agricultural exports are a priority for US negotiators – it would be difficult to make an exception for chicken.”

That quote, from a June 3 article in The Guardian, expresses a fear in more than a minority of UK citizens, including the  increasing number favoring generally recognized as safe-type (GRAS) rules being applied in the preparation of material – foodstuffs – intended for human consumption. And beyond that, there is, there as in the US, an increasing move amongst consumers for chickens and chicken products from birds raised in ways closer to what nature intended – without additives in their food, being given adequate room to move and ‘act like a chicken’, to be treated, ethically, like something more than an entity to transform grain into meat. (The same issues arise when cattle-raising is discussed – as they should be.)

Consumers might wonder, given enough information to do so, how the chemical chlorine – generally thought of as a substance for sanitizing swimming pools – could possible have anything to do with the raising or processing of chickens. And why, come to that, it’s use would be acceptable under the GRAS standards.

GRAS defines, in  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) parlance, “any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive.”

The Guardian article focuses on a practice, the washing of chicken with a fluid containing chlorine, that has been banned in the European Union for 22 years. While the practice is being used less and less in the US, it is still legal here.

The National Chicken Council in the United States estimates that chlorine is used in some rinses and sprays in only about 10% of processing plants in the U.S. Most of the chlorine that is used in the industry is used for cleaning and sanitizing processing equipment. However, according to the web site ChickenCheckin.com, “numerous studies and scientific research have confirmed that the use of chlorinated water to chill and clean chicken is safe and effective. Chlorine-washed chicken does not pose any human health concerns and it is not present in the final product.”

Industry practice would suggest it’s perfectly OK for laying chickens – egg producers – to spend the bulk of their lives standing in their own waste. That like most other commonalities of chicken and egg producing is little-known to and less thought-about by American consumers.

It’s worth considering that, while the US has elaborate, well-thought-out, generally ‘reasonable’ rules for how food is procured, processed, transported and stored at the point of sale, the US’s rules aren’t necessarily the ‘best,’ or acceptable to governments – and ultimately the citizens – of other countries.

A decreasing number of American families regularly consume chickens that are home-raised, fed on table scraps, never subject to government inspection, and are tasty as all get out. I often experienced chickens raised that way when I was a kid. Like today’s home-raised chickens, none of them ever got me sick – aside from the occasional belly ache from eating too much.

As recently as a few years ago, I occasionally (very much) enjoyed chickens that were field raised in very small quantities on farms I visited in Southern Virginia. Their taste, and waste/fat-to-meat makeup was ounces-per-pound above store-bought chickens.

One of those farms was Amish-run. It may still be raising and selling its own chickens, but I’ve moved from that area, and on several recent trips through there the ‘dressed chickens’ sign was missing.

Another chicken-raising operation was run by two partners, one of whom had a small farm. The other guy obtained the chicks, and they split the cost of raising them, as well as the modest profits from selling them – straight to customers, via the non-farmer’s home in a nearby city.

Sadly, they found that food (grain) cost too high to justify the small farmer’s investment in time and effort to bring the chicks to a meaty-enough-for-market state.

All their customers were private, bird-or-two at a time ones, and I’m sure others, like me, were sad to see them have to give up on growing the kind of birds that used to be commonplace: Birds that were, to the degree chickens can be, ‘happy as a hen’.

I still had that taste of ‘old fashioned’ chicken in mind when, during half a decade living in England, I was regularly disappointed with the birds one or another supermarket – or local butcher – offered. One reason was the still-common use of fish meal to feed them. Over time, of course, my taste buds ‘settled’ on the taste of local chicken.

But I seriously noticed a taste difference when I returned to the US, in 1976, and resumed eating birds grown in this country. I doubt, but have no idea, if they were chlorine-washed then. Probably not; But over the years – into and through the chlorinated chicken era – the flavor of supermarket birds here has slide down the taste scale. More’s the pity.

With Tariffs Promised on Mexican Goods, How Will Tomatoes Fare?

tomatoes--on_vine

Recent news reports have made it abundantly clear that US President Donald pays no regard, when considering tariffs on this and/or that from this and/or that country, to the potential impact on either US citizens in general or domestic producers using parts from those newly taxed countries.

Be clear: Tariffs are taxes – taxes too often paid, not by foreign countries or foreigners, but by American manufacturers and US consumers.

He was warned today (June 4) by members of his Republican party in Congress that they are seriously opposed to his plan to levy tariffs on all goods from Mexico “until the Mexican government stops the flow of migrants across the US’s southern border,” as The Times put it.

A good reason to suspect that if Mexican goods are hit with import tariffs by the US, their tomatoes – which “account for just over half of the U.S. tomato market,” according to the Florida Tomato Exchange – came two weeks ago (on May 22), when the trade groups representing Mexican and Florida tomato growers/marketers both issued statements concerning their future trade relationships.

First, a proposal from T=the Mexicans growers to the US Department of Commerce, which oversees imports, spoke first, proposing a renewal of the oddly-named “Tomato Suspension Agreement” based on such factors as:

[1] Mexican tomatoes are (already) imported at prices above those of US (particularly Florida’s, where the bulk of America’s commercial tomatoes are grown), and

[2] agreed proposals by Mexican growers and US border-area importers “enforce the arrival condition” of tomatoes moving north across the border, reducing the risk to importers of in-shipment damages and resultant disputes or costs.

tomatoes_mexican

Mexican tomatoes in the field

But Both the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas’ (FPAA) President and the Florida Tomato Exchange’s (FTE) rejected Mexico’s proposals, contending, among other things, that the latter ‘dumps’ the fruit at unfairly low prices onto the American market.

In February, the US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, said that the United States would resume an anti-dumping investigation into Mexican tomatoes, withdrawing from a so-called suspension agreement that halted the anti-dumping case as long as Mexican producers sold their tomatoes above a pre-determined price. U.S. growers and lawmakers say that deal has failed.

Ross said in early February that the United States would resume an anti-dumping investigation into Mexican tomatoes, withdrawing from a so-called suspension agreement that halted the anti-dumping case as long as Mexican producers sold their tomatoes above a pre-determined price. U.S. growers and lawmakers say that deal has failed.

Last month, the US government – in the form of the Commerce Department – declared tariffs on tomatoes would go into effect this month (June). The Mexican Economy department said the country exports about $2 billion in tomatoes to the United States and supplies about half the tomatoes the U.S. consumes annually.

It said that many small- and medium-sized Mexican tomato exporters won’t be able to pay the deposits required to export. Tomatoes are Mexico’s largest agricultural export after beer and avocadoes, and tomato growing and harvesting provides about 400,000 jobs in Mexico.

But the deposits required to comply with the 17.5% U.S. tariff would amount to about $350 million, money that many Mexican producers don’t have.

The Commerce Department declaration, significantly, had no relationship with Trump’s since-then declaration he was aiming to boost the price of all Mexican imports.

Sadly, as noted above, how all this will play out, over the next few months, is anyone’s guess. But one thing is pretty sure: your home-made tomato sauce, salsa, and tomato salad, among other things, is about to cost you more. Probably well over 10-15% more, even if retailers eat some of the additional costs to them.