USDA Approves Controversial New Poultry Inspection Rule
New USDA poultry inspection rules will place the burden of food inspections on the factories, so that government inspectors can focus on preventing foodborne illnesses.
The controversial new rule is an overhaul to an inspection model that has remained largely unchanged in more than 50 years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will now require that all poultry companies take measures to prevent food contamination from salmonella and campylobacter before it occurs, rather than after.
"For the first time ever, all poultry facilities will be required to perform their own microbiological testing at two points in their production process," said a statement released by the agency. The proposal was first published in 2012, but was delayed after intense debate from the public.
An optional inspection system would require companies to sort their own products for quality defects before presenting it to an FSIS inspector.
The system will pull inspectors from focusing on quality assurance tasks in order to perform more food safety examinations, take samples, check plant sanitation and observe live birds for signs of disease of mistreatment.
While FSIS estimates that the new poultry inspection system will prevent nearly 5,000 salmonella and campylobacter illnesses each year, food safety and consumer advocates say otherwise.
"With the poultry industry standing to gain financially due to increased production and fewer regulatory requirements, the plan is a gift from the Obama administration to the industry, one that will undermine consumer and worker safety, as well as animal welfare," Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement.
The Associated Press reports that if companies opt into the proposal, the number of inspectors at poultry plants could be reduced by a fourth.
After outcry from the general public and consumer groups, the final draft of the rules did not increase the maximum line speeds for plants from 140 birds per minute to 175.
"This is not a meaningful victory because there are not accompanying worker safety regulations to deal with the musculoskeletal disorders and other work-related injuries that both the plant workers and USDA inspectors suffer every day working in the poultry slaughter plants," said Hauter.
Hauter added that the lone line inspector would still have to inspect 2.33 birds every second.