Poultry ‘modernization’ bad news for consumers and workers

By Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft and Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow

What do you call a proposed federal regulatory rule that looks to help make hundreds of millions of dollars for industry at the expense of worker and the public’s safety? Irresponsible? Reckless?

In a nutshell, that’s what’s happening with the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed changes to the poultry inspection process. It sounds like a lot of legal mumbo jumbo, but what is boils down to is that it allows the fox to guard the hen house – almost literally. The changes allow the government to layoff federally trained and experienced poultry inspectors, who are tasked with keeping American poultry safe, and allows the poultry plants to hire private employees to carry out those duties. These private employees do not have mandatory training nor would have the same level of experience. The workers would also be at the mercy of their employers of when they could blow the whistle and stop an unfit carcass from getting mixed in with poultry sent to consumers’ tables. Poultry plants would also be permitted to speed up the inspection lines in order to make more profits. But at the cost of what?  Increased risk of worker injuries? Increase in foodborne diseases like salmonella and campylobacter?
A retired federal poultry inspector has been blowing the lid about what she’s seen at a pilot plant and calling into question the wisdom of the proposed change.  Phyllis McKelvey, grandmother of 8 and the whistle blowing retired poultry inspector with over 40 years of experience, took her concerns public through a Change.org petition that more than 177,000 people signed.  Last week, she delivered the petitions to USDA and called on them to stop this new inspection process from spreading to a majority of poultry plants.
The proposed rule would allow the poultry plants to speed up the lines of inspection to 175 birds per minute – that’s 3 birds per second and 1 bird per 1/3 of a second.  You can’t even wink that fast!
What makes USDA think untrained private inspectors can inspect a bird in that time? Can they find the puss, scabs, tumors and fecal contamination in that time?  Can even trained and experienced federal inspectors catch defects in that short period of time? And should we put public’s safety on the line in order for the poultry industry to make more profits?
That’s a gamble we’re not willing to take.
For more information on the USDA’s proposed changes to the poultry inspection process and what you can do, please visit UFCW and National Council of La Raza.

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