Processing Magazine

Taste for feet may keep U.S. chickens in China

September 21, 2009
China is threatening to cut off imports of American chicken, but poultry experts have at least one reason to suspect it may be an empty threat: Many Chinese consumers would miss the scrumptious chicken feet they get from this country. Chicken exports were thrust to the forefront of American-Chinese trade tensions when China took steps to retaliate for President Barack Obama’s decision to levy tariffs on Chinese tires. The New York Times reports that the Chinese announced that they were considering import taxes on automotive products and chicken meat, a development that some trade experts feared could escalate. American executives expressed concern about losing what recently has become the largest export market for their chickens, one that is expanding rapidly as the Chinese population grows more prosperous. But the executives also expressed relief that, so far, Chinese importers have told them to keep the feet and wings coming. The Chinese market is important to the industry. Exports of American poultry totaled $4.34 billion last year. Of that amount, $854.3 million worth of chicken meat was exported to China and Hong Kong. About half of the chicken parts sold to China are wings and feet, which are worth only a few cents a pound in the United States. As delicacies in China, they fetch 60 to 80 cents a pound, a price that no other foreign market comes close to matching, according to industry experts. The United States is by far the world’s leading supplier of king-size chicken feet. With the Chinese threatening retaliation, industry officials say they can only hope Chinese taste buds outweigh protectionist impulses.