The weekend before Labor Day, the USDA quietly announced that chicken produced in the US, Chile, or Canada, processed in one of four Chinese facilities, and exported back to the US would be allowed in school meals. The controversial decision comes after officials seized 22 tons of fake beef in a Chinese factory, the latest in a long line of food safety scares coming out of the country.

According to Politico, “The department also has rejected a food safety advocacy group’s petition to ban China from shipping any chicken to the U.S. Food and Water Watch argued in the petition that Chinese food safety measures are not up to U.S. standards and that U.S. Officials are influenced by desires to prod China into lifting restrictions on U.S. beef shipments, but the USDA rejected those charges in a letter dated Aug. 30.”

Amidst the outcry, the USDA seems to be attempting to hide their decision from parents. The statement on their official website:

Will chicken processed in China be included in school lunches?

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service purchases approximately 20 percent of food for the National School Lunch Program on behalf of schools. The product purchased by AMS must be of 100 percent domestic origin, meaning that they are produced and processed from products which were produced, raised, and processed only in the United States.

Come again?

The Lunch Tray did a little investigative journalism and spoke with a USDA spokesperson, who grudgingly disclosed that as part of the “Buy American” act, “products that are processed in the United States and comprised of at least 51 percent domestic ingredients are considered domestic.

The website elaborates:

“If, for example, a manufacturer of frozen chicken egg rolls fully assembles the egg rolls in this country, but sources the cooked chicken in the egg rolls from a Chinese processor, the egg rolls are considered “domestic” so long as the Chinese-processed chicken doesn’t comprise more than 49% of the total product. School districts could buy these egg rolls without violating the “Buy American” rule and the egg rolls would not have to bear any country-of-origin labeling to disclose the location of the poultry processing. And this scenario could easily apply to any chicken-based entree supplied to schools, such as chicken soup, frozen chicken burritos, chicken chili, chicken-stuffed ravioli, and more.”

Many consider this to be a first step toward the USDA legalizing the import of Chinese-grown meat and food products. Keep an eye on that lunch tray, parents.

[via The Lunch Tray]

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