Chinese Chicken Creates a PR Challenge for Food Distributors

Any business selling America’s favorite flightless bird faces a bit of a conundrum after authorities decided to allow our own fowl to be processed in China before hitting stores and restaurants stateside.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to let a limited number of Chinese plants process chicken for sale in the United States—and it’s not even Chinese chicken. That’s right, these feathered sandwich fillers, which were raised and slaughtered on this side of the Atlantic, will travel East for a bit of re-dressing before returning in time for a dip in the deep fryer.

The USDA assured the National Chicken Council (because of course that’s a thing) that they’ll give these jet-lagged birds the once-over when they return, but no one from the US will be doing any regular on-site inspection in China. Given the fact that Chinese police recently discovered chicken feet that were somehow 46 years past their sell-by date, we don’t place much faith in Beijing’s government regulators. Oh, and the USDA is currently allowing inspectors provided by the chicken companies themselves to provide oversight despite a recent Government Accountability Office report highlighting big problems in our own existing food safety standards.

It’s enough to make you reconsider that chicken Caesar salad you wanted for lunch.

Congress isn’t too happy about this new step in the journey from crowded cage to table; New York senator Chuck Schumer and others wrote to Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack to voice their disapproval, and their statements will make even more Americans aware of the new deal.

The public’s growing outrage over GMOs has led to serious PR challenges for almost every major food brand, so we think its safe to say you can expect consumers to begin asking whether your client’s chicken has ever visited the Great Wall (or at least flown over it post-mortem). And affected brands’ social media teams might have trouble giving followers a definitive answer thanks to our own tricky food labeling laws.

If your firm has any clients that sell chicken, now’s the time to brainstorm a good crisis comms response.