Call it “battle of the bans.” Or maybe ask, “Why did the chicken cross the Pacific?” Fear of poultry-borne illness in two of the world’s largest chicken-consuming countries means the birds probably won’t be crossing too many oceans.

Back in January, China banned the importation of chicken and eggs (both at the same time) from the U.S. after a virulent strain of avian bird flu was found in America’s Pacific Northwest.

That ban was still in place this April when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked China to limit its ban only to poultry products from states where bird flu has been found. China has refused, and three states — Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa — have declared states of emergency following outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

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“Not in the years that I’ve been in state government have we had a disaster situation affecting, in this case, our poultry, like this,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said on Friday. “This is a magnitude much greater than anything we’ve dealt with in recent, modern times.”

Meanwhile, on this side of the road, Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, has introduced a bill, H.R. 2152, that would prevent chicken processed in China from being included in school lunches.

It’s not the first time DeLauro has found herself fighting against the proliferation of Chinese chicken. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted “equivalency” to chicken processed in China, meaning that the approval of Chinese officials was sufficient, regardless of questions over the nation’s food safety record.

That meant chickens could be raised in the United States, shipped to and processed in China, and then shipped back to the states to be used in school lunches — a situation that made large-scale food purveyors happy but left others, such as DeLauro, concerned.

Provisions in last year’s national budget prevented chicken processed in China from being used in school lunches, but the USDA’s budget hasn’t been passed yet, leading DeLauro to propose a bill that would make the ban permanent.

“I introduced this bipartisan legislation to prevent Chinese meat and chicken from being used in federal nutrition programs given China’s atrocious history of poorly-enforced food safety laws,” DeLauro said. “It is a moral imperative to ensure the food we serve America’s children is safe. There is no better place to start than in their schools.”

Jordan Fenster lives with his family in Fairfield County. He can be reached by or @JordanFenster on Twitter.

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