Lawson, the Tyson spokeswoman, said China accounted for 8% of the company's $889.9 million in international chicken sales in 2006. In comparison, she said, Mexico accounted for 37% of that number and Russia made up 22%.
Besides foods from Cargill and Tyson, China's suspension of imports included frozen chicken feet from Sanderson Farms Inc., alleged to be tainted with residue of an anti-parasite drug, and frozen pig ears from Van Luin Foods USA Inc., which Chinese regulators said were found to contain ractopamine, a feed additive used to produce leaner meat.
Janet Riley, a spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute, said that China's rejection of the imports went against the policies of the U.S. and other countries around the world, which accept products with ractopamine and some salmonella.
"It is acceptable to have low levels of salmonella in a raw product," Riley said. "This product was inspected and passed for meat consumption in the U.S."
Food safety issues are often used for political means in times of strained trade relations, said Doug Powell, head of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University. For example, Russia banned U.S. poultry imports in 2002 just a week after President Bush introduced steep tariffs on imported steel that resonated throughout the Russian steel industry.
"Politically, it's a standard tactic," Powell said. "They'll say it is a food safety issue, but really it's a political issue."
Times staff writer Alana Semuels contributed to this report.