Protesters call foul on new poultry inspection rules

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow

On Monday, I joined the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Food & Water Watch (FWW) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) in front of USDA to protest proposed changes to poultry slaughter.

Currently, USDA inspectors from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) monitor every plant in the United States that slaughters poultry. They inspect slaughtered animals to ensure that only wholesome product is entering commerce. In a few poultry plants, a new model project called the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (or HIMP for short) has changed this model. In HIMP plants, some government inspectors have been replaced with plant employees. The government now proposes to expand this model so that all poultry plants will have the option to participate.

NCL is concerned about several aspects of this proposed rule, which is why we joined Monday’s protest. As part of the proposed changes, plants would be allowed to increase their line speeds to up to 175 birds per minute, or close to three birds per second.

Our first concern is that the new program will negatively impact food safety. With fewer government inspectors on the line, ensuring food safety will be left up to the plant employees. Unfortunately, the proposed rule does not mandate training for these employees. This means that well-trained government inspectors will be replaced with plant employees who may have varying levels of expertise, depending on the level of investment each plant chooses to make. This is not a recipe for uniform, consistent food safety outcomes.

Additionally, NCL is concerned about the impact of increased line speeds on worker safety. We are concerned that with lines moving ever faster, workers may be at increased risk for injury. While the proposed rule includes a study on worker safety, NCL feels that it is important to understand the impact on workers before changes are widely enacted, not after.

It was with these concerns in mind I joined AFGE, CFA, FWW, and GAP to protest the proposed changes. The fact that we were joined by dozens of inspectors speaks to the importance of this issue. We hope that USDA will hear our message and change their approach to updating poultry inspection. In this instance, the proposed changes are extreme and more research is needed on the efficacy of HIMP before we can think about expanding it to all plants.

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