The Safe Food Coalition has written a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking him to withdraw that agency’s proposal to modify its poultry slaughter inspection program. That program, known as HAACP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) shifts responsibility for inspecting poultry processing plants from government to the companies.
The Food Integrity Campaign has released affidavits from inspectors who have worked at HIMP and non-HIMP plants that talk about the “serious problems the program directly poses to public health,” according to that organization. For instance, line speeds are increased up to six times faster at some HIMP plants; federal inspectors are replaced by plant workers who may not speak up about food safety issues; and a greater number of contaminated birds enter the cooling vats at HIMP plants.
In the letter, the coalition, which consists of Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food & Water Watch, and Consumer Federation of America, among others, cites the recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), that identified major deficiencies in data and analysis of the pilot programs upon which USDA based HIMP. The GAO said that data used to compare pilot plants with traditionally inspected plants was not designed for such a comparison. In addition, chemicals used in poultry plants may be compromising pathogenic bacteria data.
Second, USDA has selectively used data from the pilot program, relying on data from just two 2-year periods rather than using data from the entire ten year project. That means results “may not be indicative of the plant’s performance over time.” Finally, design and methodology limitations prevent generalizations from the pilot program to all poultry plants.
The report also mentions problems and issues with the USDA hog pilot program, including a lack of comparable data, an inability to generalize from pilot programs to hog plants nationwide, and a lack of information to determine if the program is meeting its purpose. Since USDA has approved equivalency for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand red meat plants based on the hog pilot program, these findings are “particularly troubling”, according to the letter. The ground beef from the Canadian XL Foods plant that was recalled for E. coli O157:H7 last year, for instance, was produced at one of the plants given food safety equivalency based on the hog pilot program.