A pilot program by the United States Department of Agriculture privatizing inspection of poultry products is being allowed to proceed, even though records show scabs, feathers, bile, sores and digestive tract tissue often remain in poultry carcasses.
The USDA has been handling the pilot program since 1998, and line speeds in plants where being conducted run as fast as 200 birds per minute, several times faster than line speeds at other poultry slaughter houses. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) pilot project covers chicken and turkey slaughter inspections.
“This proposal is unacceptable and violates the department’s legal obligation to protect consumers by inspecting every carcass and every bird produced in USDA-inspected plants,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch (F&WW), in a Friday news release.
F&WW is vehemently opposed to the plan or any other such attempts at privatizing food safety functions which are the responsibility of the federal government.
Reports from pilot program plants indicate their employees performing inspections previously performed by the USDA are improperly trained or lack the authority for taking necessary steps at stopping unsafe poultry products from leaving the facility.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, F&WW recently obtained more than 5,000 pages of documents indicating company inspectors are not enforcing current regulations. Before releasing the documents just last week, the USDA has provided virtually no analysis or data on the functions of the pilot program.
According to F&WW, the Government Accountability Office in 2001 released a critical report of the pilot program. Since then, there has not been an independent evaluation of how this privatization is working.
“The agency claims that the salmonella rates in the pilot project plants are lower than the rates for plants that receive conventional inspection. But given the GAO criticism of the design of the program and the fact that production practices can be easily be manipulated during government testing periods, FSIS’s claims are suspect,” Hauter added.
F&WW calls for the abandonment of the privatization plan, a project putting “industry interests above consumer protection.”
Hauter pointed out the power of the meat industry inside the government agency, noting, “Handing over food safety inspections to companies to perform themselves is unacceptable. Food & Water Watch will oppose any attempts to do so in meat and poultry inspection or food safety programs run by the Food and Drug Administration.”
The USDA, however, claims the program will actually be an improvement and reduce government spending. “The modernization plan will protect public health, improve the efficiency of poultry inspections in the U.S., and reduce spending,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a government statement.
The proposal will soon publish in the Federal Register and the comment period will end 90 days after publishing. Interested citizens may submit their comments through the Federal erRulemaking portal at [url=http://www.regulations.gov]www.regulations.gov.