Chinese May Shun Chicken Imported from China

With quite a few live poultry shops, like this one in Flushing, already established in Chinese neighborhoods, some in the food industry wonder if there will be a market for chicken imported from China. (Photo by Peter Chu via World Journal)

[Editor’s note: A new trade deal the Trump administration signed with China allows cooked Chinese chicken to be imported to the U.S. The first shipment arrived in the beginning of July. But World Journal finds Chinese consumers living in New York may not be interested in the chicken from their home country.]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture may have vowed [to follow] strict food safety guidelines in their inspections of the cooked chicken imported from China, but Chinese consumers don’t seem to be convinced. Some said toxic foods are so common in China and they worry the imported chicken could contain an adulterant (because they are raised with a formula that contains the chemical) or carry H7N9, a bird flu virus. They said they’d rather buy American chicken at higher prices.

Meihua Chen, a nutritionist, said if the imported chicken is processed and packed by American standards and is inspected by the Department of Agriculture, it should be safe from bacterial contamination. But “consumers care not only about processing and packing but also how the chicken is raised,” she said.  She said the reason that Perdue chicken is popular among consumers is that the brand works together with high-quality chicken farms in the U.S. to guarantee its chicken is raised in the right way. But the way Chinese chicken is raised is not regulated by the U.S. government.

Chen said China has a tarnished record on food safety, and has had bird flu epidemics before. “Even if they have plenty of money to build big farms, their staff training and safety awareness may not be at the same level as in the U.S.,” Chen said. She added that she would rather spend more money on American or European chicken than on cheaper Chinese chicken.

Zongming He, a New Yorker who does food import business from China, doubts whether Chinese chicken can find a market in the U.S. He said in recent years, live poultry shops in the Chinese community have been springing up like bamboo shoots after the rain. There are six such shops in Chinatown, and Sunset Park and Flushing each have two. He has a friend who recently opened a shop on Main Street in Flushing selling chicken that is freshly slaughtered at a farm in upstate New York on the same day. “Consumers like to check the tags carefully when they buy chicken. There are only four or five wholesale shops in New York City who received permits for selling chicken that is freshly slaughtered in upstate farms,” said He.

He said some restaurants may be interested in purchasing Chinese chicken in big chunks for its low prices. But individual consumers are likely to worry about adulterants or antibiotics the imported chicken may contain. What’s more, Chinese consumers who would like to buy a whole chicken to make a traditional dish or soup are often housewives and seniors who are serious about freshness. “Frozen chicken takes at least 60 days to go through customs in China and in the U.S.,” said He. “So the imported chicken from China on the shelves of the groceries here were slaughtered at least two months ago. Being frozen for such a long time makes it incomparable to freshly slaughtered chicken in both flavor and nutrition.”

“Chinese believe chicken makes us physically strong, so we like to eat chicken,” said Zhiyue Zhang, a consumer who often cooks chicken soup together with his Cantonese roommate (Note: Chicken soup is a major part of Cantonese cuisine). “And we prefer free-range chicken,” he said. Zhang said most Chinese consumers would choose American chicken unless food safety is no longer an issue in China or the imported chicken is placed on the shelves of groceries without proper tags (that identify their origin).

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