A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is trying to bar Chinese poultry from federal school lunch and other nutrition programs because of China's poor record on food safety.

On Wednesday, 12 Democratic representatives and two Republicans called for language in the 2014 agriculture appropriations bill to ensure that chicken processed in China is not included in the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Food and Summer Food Service programs.

"Children are our most vulnerable population with respect to food-borne illnesses and sensitivity to potentially dangerous chemicals," the lawmakers said in a letter to fellow members of Congress. "Given China's demonstrably poor food safety record, we believe it is unacceptable to take unnecessary risks with the health of American schoolchildren."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the import of Chinese-processed poultry this year on the condition the poultry was not hatched and raised in China. Chinese producers are now working toward garnering approval to export poultry to the U.S. that's raised and slaughtered in China.

A deal is being viewed as a quid pro quo to open the massive Chinese market for U.S. beef, which has been banned since 2003 over fears of mad cow disease.

China has been rocked by numerous food scandals in recent years as it struggles to rein in corrupt business practices and bolster weak government enforcement.

U.S. legislators highlighted some of those incidents in Wednesday's letter:

"Consider the impact of China's weak enforcement of food safety laws and regulations; more than 300,000 Chinese children fell seriously ill, with some dying, from melamine-tainted milk powder; dangerously high levels of mercury found in Chinese baby formula; the sale of more than $1 million worth of rat and other small mammal meat passed off to consumers as lamb; and more than 16,000 diseased pig carcasses dumped in a river to rot.

Last year China Central Television revealed that a Chinese poultry supplier provided Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants with chicken fattened by large quantities of illegal drugs. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced that, since 2007, pet treats imported from China containing contaminated chicken have killed 600 dogs and cats in the United States and sickened 3,600 more. According to the World Health Organization, so far 45 of the 136 people who contracted the H7N9 bird flu in China this year have died."

Signing the letter were Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles), Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), Janice D. Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).

Congress isn't expected to address the agriculture appropriations bill until January.

david.pierson@latimes.com