The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday told stakeholders it had certified four poultry processing plants in the Shandong province of China to export fully cooked, frozen, and refrigerated chicken to the United States. USDA made its announcement on the first day of China’s International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo held this week.

USDA last year approved the export of chicken raised in the Untied States to be processed in China.  But shipping chicken to China for processing and then shipping it back to the United States has proved uneconomical and no American poultry company has done so.

Though raw chicken must still come from countries approved by USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) (the United States, Canada,  and Chile), consumer rights activists are calling the certifications for cooked chicken from China dangerous. 

“China’s food safety system is a wreck,” D.C.-based Food & Water Watch said in a statement Thursday. The group has been fighting the USDA on the issue since November 2005.  “There have been scores of food safety scandals in China and the most recent ones have involved expired poultry products sold to U.S. fast food restaurants based in China,” the statement said. “Now, we have FSIS moving forward to implement this ill-conceived decision, and it has not even audited the Chinese food safety system in over 20 months.” 

Food & Water Watch said the USDA actions contradict promises the agency made to protect American consumers, including a commitment to annually audit China’s food safety system. The last audit was done in March 2013.

The approved poultry plants are Shandong Delicate Food Co., No. 2 Meat Product Processing Plant of Weifang Legang Food Co., Qingyun Ruifeng Food Co. and Qingdao Nine-alliance Group Co.