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Some chicken imports from China proposed

Critics cite fear over bird flu

WASHINGTON -- The Agriculture Department is seeking to allow importing of poultry processed in China, where thousands of birds and several people have died from bird flu.

Critics are urging the department to drop the proposal, and the US industry is raising concerns about how it would affect consumers' perception of chicken safety. The United States does not import poultry from countries where the virulent bird flu strain is present.

Under the department's proposal, the United States still would not accept Chinese chickens. China would have to process poultry slaughtered in the United States or other countries from which it accepts poultry.

The industry did not ask for the proposal, National Chicken Council spokesman Richard Lobb said. Chicken companies test every flock in the nation to reassure people that chicken is safe to eat.

Under the government proposal, the poultry would have to be fully cooked and shelf stable, which basically means it would be canned. ''I'm not defending it, and we are concerned about consumer perceptions, but the fact of the matter is, cooking destroys any virus, so canned food, as long as the canning is done properly, doesn't present any food safety problem," Lobb said.

The Agriculture Department proposed the rule, with no announcement, on Nov. 23. The period during which it accepted comments on the proposal ended Monday. The rule still must be finalized before it takes effect.

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