Poultry Inspectors Protest USDA "Modernization" - The UltimateFatBurner Blog

Poultry Inspectors Protest USDA “Modernization”

And I share their concerns… According to Food Safety News:

Around 100 poultry inspectors gathered outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday, right under Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s window, to protest a proposal to expand an inspection system that shifts federal inspectors away from inspecting for quality defects and allows slaughter lines to speed up.

…Under the proposed rule, the agency would transfer much of this quality-assurance task over to the poultry plants so that it can devote more of its employees to evaluating the companies’ pathogen-prevention plans and bacteria-testing programs.

USDA insists the change is about “modernization,” and claims it will improve inspection efficiency and food safety.

Under the proposed plan, all FSIS inspection activities will focus on critical food safety tasks to ensure that agency resources are tied directly to protecting public health and reducing foodborne illnesses. Additionally, some outdated regulatory requirements are being removed and replaced with more flexible and effective testing and process control requirements. Finally, all poultry establishments will now have to ensure that their procedures prevent contamination in the production process and provide supporting data to FSIS personnel.

By focusing inspectors only on the areas that are crucial to food safety, these changes will not only enhance consumer safety but will improve efficiency saving taxpayers more than $90 million over three years and lower production costs at least $256.6 million per year.

At first glance, this actually sounds pretty good! But the devil is in the details.

The number one concern expressed among inspectors at the rally was, without question, line speed, and the impact that would have on their ability — or anyone’s ability — to inspect the birds whizzing by.

A group of inspectors from Georgia, Florida and Mississippi, who on average have been working in poultry plants for 15 years, told Food Safety News that if line speeds jump from 140 birds per minute, with three inspectors inspecting 35 birds each per minute, to closer to 200 birds per minute, with only one USDA inspector on the line, there will be quality issues: “How much can you see in that period of time!?”

“It’s a very very bad idea,” said one inspector from Georgia. “It’s the speed and it’s the quality the public will be receiving.”

“There’s a public safety risk here,” said Clarence Douglas, an inspector from Mississippi. “The speed is a very important issue. We only have a few seconds to look at the birds. It’s already tough to inspect as it is. If you speed it up you’ll make it even more difficult.”

The plan has been piloted in several plants. As reported by the New York Times, poultry plant employees assigned to inspections are passing contaminated or diseased chicken carcasses.

In affidavits given to the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit legal-assistance group for government whistle-blowers, several inspectors who work at plants where the pilot program is in place said the main problem is that they are removed from positions on the assembly line and put at the end of the line, which makes it impossible for them to spot diseased birds.

The inspectors, whose names were redacted, said they had observed numerous instances of poultry plant employees allowing birds contaminated with fecal matter or other substances to pass. And even when the employees try to remove diseased birds, they face reprimands, the inspectors said.

Ugh. Going veg is starting to look like an attractive prospect.

More from Dr. Marion Nestle and WaPo reporter Dana Milbank.

Author: elissa

Elissa is a former research associate with the University of California at Davis, and the author/co-author of over a dozen articles published in scientific journals. Currently a freelance writer and researcher, Elissa brings her multidisciplinary education and training to her writing on nutrition and supplements.

1 Comment

  1. Just as it seems food illness outbreaks are getting worse, they decide to make it even easier to get food poisoning.

    It’s hard to believe with all the “issues” today in the food industry they would even think about relaxing regulations.

    I usually try not to worry to much about things like this. I tend to be fussy when choosing meat products and making sure I thaw and cook properly. It sounds as if that may not make any difference.

    I might have to consider the veg way with you.

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