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Federal Government May Lower Poultry Inspection Standards

A federal food safety agency is poised to lower the inspection standards at chicken plants.
 
 
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 The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed a new inspection system for young poultry slaughter plants on January 27, 2012. This new proposed rule to turn food inspection over to private plants will result in approximately 1000 fewer government positions. Many believe that the process of privatizing food inspection will also significantly reduce the quality of food available to consumers. 

The proposed rule places emphasis on quantity and quickness over quality. The current poultry inspection process allows workers to look at 35 chickens per minute, while the new plan proposes looking at 175 chickens per minute. In addition, the proposed rule will reduce the number of FSIS carcass inspectors to one per line. This will create less time for inspection as well as job cuts among federal employees.

In the current food inspection industry, inspection workers are required to have at least three years of experience, through training, education or a combination of the two. The privatization proposed rule does not include regulations requiring experienced workers. “People walk in off the streets, and they put them in this position with no training,” said Stan Painter, Chairman for the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals.
 
Another issue Painter expressed with privatization is that companies are inspecting their own products. “They need to be impartial, they need to be independent, and they need to be looking out for the consumer,” Painter said.
 
He noted that federal workers have the ability to be impartial because they do not have monetary gain behind the inspection process. Government employees want to help consumers rather than raise private plant profits. 
 
In a statement released by Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, she said the administration should not implement the proposed rule “until all the facts are collected about whether it can achieve the same level of consumer protection as traditional inspection.”
 
The proposed rule also requires the use of chemicals to kill bacteria in the poultry, such as salmonella. However, the long-term effects of these chemicals on human consumers are unknown. If something happens due to reduce food quality, “we are held responsible,” Painter said. “They throw us under the bus.” 
 
Painter encourages consumers to contact their congressmen about the issue, or to comment on the Federal Register Notice. He hopes that showing a lack of “consumer confidence” in privatized food inspection will lead to significant revisions in the proposed rule.
 
Comments on the Federal Register Notice must be submitted by April 26, 2012. They can be filed online or mailed to: Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), FSIS, Docket Clerk, Patriots Plaza 3, 355 E. Street SW., 8—163A, Mailstop 3782, Washington, DC 20250-3700.
 

Renee Scott is a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO.