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Chinese chicken under scrutiny

23 October 2008


During Question Time in the European Parliament Traditional Unionist MEP Jim Allister pressed Commissioner Kallas on the import of heat-treated poultry meat from China and expressed concerns about the rigour of health tests to which it is subjected.

Imports of poultry meat from China to the EU were banned back in 2002 because of bird flu. At the end of July 2008 the EU agreed to re-admit treat-heated poultry meat from Shandong Province, on the basis that it now met EU health and welfare standards.  Since then this meat has been flooding into the European market, causing concerns among indigenous producers of unfair competition.

Against this background Mr Allister pressed Commission Vice-President, Siim Kallas, as to just how rigorous the EU had been in allowing itself to be persuaded to re-commence imports from China.  Though Commissioner Kallas was anxious to stress that public health rules applying to these exports from China ensured "an equivalent level of protection" to those in the EU, when pressed by MEPs on precisely how this was done some disturbing information emerged.

It turns out that exports to the EU have been recommenced on the basis of just 3 fact-finding missions and that the last one was back in 2006. "Here we are", said Mr Allister "opening our market in the latter half of 2008 on the basis of stale inspections and with no further inspection intended till 2009. This is not what I believe EU consumers would expect. But when I pressed the Commissioner further I was disappointed to get no answer to these critical questions:-
 whereas imports are only supposed to come from plants in Shandong Province, how do we know that the imported meat in fact all originates there;
 will there be the same ratio of production tested for EU health standards as would apply within the EU in our own plants, or are we relying on self-certification;
 on welfare considerations, will the same requirements be placed on China as we are imposing on our own producers in terms of types of cages and the phasing out of cages?

Sadly, the Commissioner was unable to answer these questions, suggesting to me that once more, with echoes of what happened with Brazilian beef, we are going down the road of allowing imports without them transparently meeting the same rigorous requirements that we place on our own produce. This is unfair to both producers and consumers in the EU.

With China pressing further export demands, with an application from Jilin Province pending, we are fast heading towards a flood of imports. Already having to cope with a huge scale of imports from Thailand, this does not bode well for our poultry industry.

I will continue to press the Commission on these issues, believing it is intolerable if our own producers are crucified by EU regulation while others can flood our market with inferior product."

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Agriculture and Environment