Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Playing chicken with imports

In a month (starting May 24) processed poultry from China can be imported to the US despite widespread outbreaks of avian influenza there. This isn't Chinese poultry, according to authorities. It is US poultry (or poultry from countries the US accepts for import), sent to China for processing. Live poultry from China cannot be imported. The request to allow this came from China. One wonders what the quid pro quo was. According to the US government, here's what it wasn't:
Chinese President Hu Jintao visited President George W. Bush on Thursday at the White House. In advance of his visit, China made several commitments, including an agreement to drop a mad cow disease-related ban on imports of U.S. beef. Raymond said the deal is unrelated to poultry imports and has been in the works since 2004. (Canadian Press)
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says not to fear. The meat will be "fully cooked and perfectly safe."
"It will have been processed," said Richard Raymond, the department's undersecretary for food safety.
"Cooking will kill the virus, if there is any virus, in poultry meat."
That's a relief. I'm sure the processing facilities in China are regulated with the utmost strictness. Just like in the US. So we don't have to worry about cross contamination of the same machinery used for batches of Chinese poultry. They'll clean it throughly for the small batches of US chicken. Won't they?

Still, I wonder. In 2005 the journal Virology reported on H5N1 contaminated processed duck meat imported from China to Japan:
This duck meat isolate was highly pathogenic to chickens upon intravenous or intranasal inoculation, replicated well in the lungs of mice and spread to the brain, but was not as pathogenic in mice as H5N1 human isolates (with a dose lethal to 50% of mice (MLD50)=5x10(6) 50% egg infectious doses [EID50]). However, viruses isolated from the brain of mice previously infected with the virus were substantially more pathogenic (MLD50=approximately 10(2) EID50) and possessed some amino acid substitutions relative to the original virus. These results show that poultry products contaminated with influenza viruses of high pathogenic potential to mammals are a threat to public health even in countries where the virus is not enzootic and represent a possible source of influenza outbreaks in poultry. (Mase et al., Virology. 2005 Aug 15;339(1):101-9)
But don't worry. USDA and the Bush administration have this all figured out so that there's a net benefit.

For someone.