Agriculture Dept. Refuses to Divulge Details of New Poultry Inspection Rule

Monday, July 14, 2014
(AP Photo)

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has sent details of a proposed new rule for poultry inspection to the White House for review. However, they’d prefer if no one else knows the details of the proposal.


Earlier drafts of the rule proposed a 40% cut in USDA inspectors and a 20% increase in line speeds. Some of the government inspectors would be replaced by those working for the processing company. Those changes drew protests, both from the standpoint of food safety and that of workers’ rights. The USDA refuses to release the new rule to the public and has won’t say if those concerns have been addressed in the final proposal.


“Although we do not discuss the specifics of the rule under review, the draft rule has been significantly informed by the feedback we received from our stakeholders, as well as from our interagency partners such as the Department of Labor,” USDA said in a prepared statement.


The department did say that under the new rule, pathogen testing would be increased, which it said would cut food-related illnesses by more than 5,000 cases a year. However, the Government Accountability Office said in a report last year that the data that the USDA used to arrive at those numbers was incomplete and antiquated. A USDA Inspector General’s audit in May said that three hog farms using the proposed inspection model had some of the worst safety records in the United States.


The Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has up to 120 days to review the rule. If it’s approved, it will be published in the Federal Register and become effective. “By the time we see it, it will be law,” Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform, told The Washington Post. “They need to open it up, otherwise it will be too late to do anything about it.”


Last March, 68 members of Congress sent Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack a letter urging that he withdraw the rule and rework the proposal, taking into account the concerns of food safety, occupational safety and civil rights advocates.


The NAACP has criticized the provision that would speed up processing lines from 140 to 175 birds per minute. Studies show that even at the current pace, about 40% of processing line workers suffer from problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition, a faster line speed would cut the time for inspectors to see signs of contamination, such as fecal matter, in the bird carcasses.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

USDA Accused Of Keeping Final Details Of New Poultry Inspection Program A Secret (by Kimberly Kindy, Washington Post)

USDA Takes Next Step To Modernise Poultry Inspection (World Poultry)

Objection to USDA Plan Allowing Poultry Producer Self-Inspection Spreads to Congress (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Food Safety Inspectors Object to Allowing Poultry Companies to do Their Own Inspections (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff)


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