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New Poultry Inspection Rule Risks Public Health

A proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would not only reduce the number of trained federal food safety inspectors on the lines in poultry processing plants and allow plant management to nearly double the speed of those lines, it would also turn many inspection duties over to plant employees.

Stan Painter, chairman of AFGE’s National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, says:

We have concerns and I think the consuming public would have concerns about the process of which their poultry—turkey and chicken products—would now be inspected by plant employees.

The rule, proposed by the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, would increase the maximum line speed from the current 91 chickens per minute to 175 per minute. It also would reduce from three to two the number of federal food safety inspectors per line.

Under a Freedom of Information Act request, the group Food and Water Watch obtained more than 5,000 pages of documents on a pilot program operating under the proposed rule’s guidelines and found that: 

large numbers of defects are routinely being missed when inspection tasks are performed by company employees instead of USDA inspectors.

Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, says:

Based on the data coming out of the plants, where this privatized inspection scheme is already in place, it is unacceptable for USDA to try to expand this program to more plants.

She says that federal inspectors receive extensive training to protect public health in poultry facilities, "but there is no similar requirement for company employees to receive training before they assume these inspection responsibilities in the proposed privatized inspection system."

AFGE’s Painter says federal food inspectors take pride in their work to protect public safety.

That little dime-sized seal that says inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we want that little seal to mean something. We don’t it to just be window dressing or give people a good feeling or false sense of security that their product in the future is as safe as it currently is today.

The comment period on the new rules is open until April 26, and you can click here to submit your comments.

For more from Painter on AFGE’s “Inside Government” program, click here, and click here for more from Food and Water Watch.

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