Take a good look at that Thanksgiving turkey you pull from the oven, smoker or deep fryer Thursday. If a proposed new rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is approved, it may be the last Thanksgiving bird you’ll be sure is free of—if you’re squeamish skip to the next paragraph—tumors, feces, scabs, salmonella and other defects.
The proposed rule would not only allow plant management to increase the speed of poultry processing lines by five times the current limit, it could eliminate the jobs of more than 800 trained federal food safety inspectors and turn many inspection duties over to plant employees.
An analysis of the USDA’s pilot program, by the group Food and Water Watch, found that company employees charged with inspecting the birds were missing many defects and allowing birds contaminated with feathers, bile and feces to pass down the line.
The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) says the new rule not only threatens food safety, but:
It puts workers’ safety on the line. Already, 59 percent of poultry workers develop carpal tunnel and other repetitive motion injuries. Increasing the line speed to 175 birds a minute will undoubtedly take a toll on the workers.
Earlier this year, AFGE and other groups delivered 150,000 signatures to the USDA urging the agency to drop the rule, which has not been finalized. In September, the AFL-CIO, AFGE, COSH and a coalition of consumer, public health, civil rights groups urged the USDA to withdraw the rule.
Phyllis McKelvey is a retired USDA poultry inspector with 44 years on the job who, before her retirement, worked in one of the pilot programs at the plants. She has a petition on Change.org to stop the proposed rule.
She says the proposed rule “not only reduces the number of USDA inspectors, but it also increases line speeds to the point where inspectors are only allotted one-third of a second to view chicken. Turkey is no exception, with inspection line speeds increasing up to 70%. Inspectors can no longer see all parts of the bird, which causes them to overlook contaminated chicken and turkey with lesions, bruises and tumors.
Even fecal matter can get by inspectors. When inspectors do see these things, they are often not allowed to stop the line. The USDA is out of touch— Americans don’t want to eat scabs, pus and sores. But that’s what will happen if this model is implemented.