Tyson Foods cleared to ship poultry to China from all U.S. plants

FILE PHOTO: Tyson food meat products are shown in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California May 29, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake

U.S. chicken companies are eager to resume sales in China after Beijing last month lifted a nearly five-year ban on imports as Chinese consumers seek pork alternatives. A deadly hog disease has killed millions of pigs and raised meat prices in the pork-loving country.

Increased Chinese purchases of products like chicken feet, wing tips and legs would help increase U.S. agricultural exports to China as the two countries negotiate a trade deal.

“There’s an extreme amount of interest across all those parts from multiple buyers in China,” Bernie Adcock, Tyson Foods’ chief supply chain officer for poultry, said in an interview on Friday.

The U.S. Trade Representative last month projected more than $1 billion in annual poultry shipments to China.

Beijing banned U.S. poultry and eggs in January 2015 over a U.S. outbreak of avian flu, closing a market that bought $500 million worth of American poultry products in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

China is scouring the globe for meat and poultry after African swine fever killed about half of the world’s largest hog herd.

U.S. meat companies have faced a disadvantage for pork exports to China, compared to other suppliers, because Beijing imposed tariffs of up to 72% on American pork as part of the countries’ trade war. Tyson, the largest U.S. meat producer, expects China to import more U.S. pork and poultry to compensate for African swine fever’s toll.

“My gut is they’re going to buy a lot of both,” Adcock said.

China is an important market for chicken parts that many U.S. consumers do not eat. During China’s ban, companies including Tyson and Sanderson Farms Inc rendered some feet for products like fertilizer and pet food, instead of exporting them for higher returns.

Tyson is working to win U.S. approval by the end of the year for labels on poultry exported to China, the final step. It received its first label approval on Friday, Adcock said.

Processing plants run by Sanderson, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp and other companies also have been cleared to ship U.S. poultry to China, according to USDA.

Tyson will probably not ship poultry to China from all its plants, Adcock said.