First Lady Champions Local Produce; Administration Pushes Poultry

First Lady Champions Local Produce; Administration Pushes Poultry

Chicken feet are an important US export to China

First Lady Michelle Obama attended the opening of her neighborhood farmers market Friday. Foodies, locavores, and social justice activists have found an ally in Mrs. Obama, who, from the planting of the White House’s first vegetable garden to her attendance at Friday’s market opening, is making it clear that access to fresh local food has become an important part of her agenda.

Speaking to the crowds, Mrs. Obama extolled the virtues of eating non-processed local foods. “I’ve learned that when my family eats fresh food, healthy food, that it really affects how we feel, how we get through the day,” she said, “and that’s whether we’re trying to get through math homework or whether there’s a Cabinet meeting or whether we’re just walking the dog.”

While Mrs. Obama pushes for the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruit at home, her husband’s administration is in the midst of heated trade negotiations with China. In response to recent tariffs levied on Chinese tires, China is threatening to place import taxes on both automative parts and US poultry.

China and Hong Kong are important consumers of US poultry, buying $854.3 million worth in 2008. Chicken feet account for a substantial portion of these exports, totaling $280 million dollars alone in 2008. The US poultry industry has a particular soft spot for the Chinese market, as they are able to sell a pound of chicken feet, rarely eaten in North America, for sixty to eighty times the US price. Last year, China consumed a staggering 421 000 tons of US chicken feet.

Given the symbiotic relationship that has evolved between US poultry producers and Chinese buyers, poultry has become a contested trade issue in recent years, particularly in the wake of the 2004 bird flu outbreaks. Last March, the US signed the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 into law, thereby preventing Chinese poultry imports on the grounds of concern over food safety. The Chinese responded by threatening to halt US Chicken imports, and continue to raise the specter of such actions.

US poultry experts such as Paul W. Aho, remain unphased, citing the niche market that US poultry holds in China. American chickens are bred to produce large quantities of white breast meat, and are, as a result, equipped with large sturdy legs and feet. “We have these jumbo juicy paws the Chinese really love, so I don’t think they are going to cut us off, ” he told the New York Times assuredly.

Photo by: Brent Moore