The USA’s Trump administration has announced a 10-part deal with China, where China has agreed to re-open its doors to US beef imports by mid-July. What the administration is downplaying, however, is that the USA in return has agreed to open its market to Chinese cooked poultry.
The US National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has welcomed this deal, stressing that it’s “impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for American’s cattle producers.”
NCBA President Craig Uden said in a statement: “We look forward to providing nearly 1.4 billion new customers in China with the same safe and delicious beef that we feed our families.
“I look forward to the day when we can serve President Trump and President Xi a dry-aged American-made New York strip in Beijing.”
I wonder, however, if Uden is also feeling the same excitement about the day when he can serve his family a meal of Chinese cooked poultry – just as safe and delicious as they feed their families.
MPJ’s readers no doubt recall the storm of controversy last year when the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service released an audit showing that China’s inspection system for slaughtered poultry met US equivalency standards. The audit found that China could be eligible to export poultry to the US that was slaughtered in its facilities.
Forbes business magazine, not known for exaggeration, wrote in a lead last year: “That chicken nugget on your child’s plate could soon be made from chicken raised, slaughtered, and processed in China, which has one of the worst food safety records in the world.”
Wenonah Hunter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, wrote in a statement last year: “The PRC [People’s Republic of China] is still suffering repercussions from the melamine contamination of dairy products in 2008 that killed six infants and hospitalized 300,000 consumers. Recently, employees of the US-based meat processing company OSI, which operates plants in the PRC, were charged with selling adulterated poultry meat to Chinese restaurants, including KFC and McDonald’s. And let’s not forget the hundreds of [US] dogs that have died from eating poultry jerky treats imported from the PRC.”
Let’s not forget this either: while China shot those responsible for the melamine disaster, it only acted after a foreign shareholder in the company complained and the milk was pulled from Chinese shelves, despite for several years Chinese families complaining that the milk was making their children sick.
I have no axe to grind against China. I lived in Hong Kong under the Union Jack; I lived in Hong Kong under the PRC. If it wasn’t for my marrying a British lass who got homesick, I’d still be living in China today. But, let me say this. If I took away one lesson from my time there it is this: nothing is ever as it seems in China.
Let’s take US beef for example. While for the last decade there might be only a pittance making its way officially into China, look at the amount of US beef being imported into Hong Kong. Either those living in Hong Kong are using beef from everything from meals to wallpaper, or it’s all going north across the border into China-proper. Be it not for me to say which one it is, but I will say this, I lived with a Chinese family in a New Territories village for several years. How many times did we have beef? Never. We ate a lot of seafood, a lot of pork and some chicken, but we never had beef. We were not the exception. US beef has never stopped going into China.
President Trump put the nail into the Trans Pacific Partnership deal which would have helped considerably US agriculture exports, including beef. With his popularity waning, he needed to throw a bone to some of his core supporters, thus this deal.
But don’t think for a second it’s going to happen, or if it does, in a manner you’re expecting.
China knows more than anyone the Great Chinese Myth. This myth is: if I could only sell one aspirin; one chicken foot; one beef steak to all 1.3 billion Chinese I’ll be richer than Scrooge McDuck. This myth makes Western business people lose all common sense and weak in the knees; it makes them see deals where there aren’t any; see profits, when none are coming in.
Since Nixon went to China, the Chinese government has been playing this game. Who has gotten rich during this time? To the US beef industry I caution: don’t believe the myth.