July 10, 2020

Members of Congress Again Ask USDA to Withdraw HIMP

Members of Congress have sent a letter to the USDA, asking the agency to withdraw their proposal to modify the poultry slaughter inspection program. The program, called HAACP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) was proposed last spring. Some are concerned that the proposal will have “deleterious impacts on both food safety and worker safety.”

CongressThe letter was signed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME). The signers list problems with the HIMP proposal, including reducing food safety standards during post-mortem inspection, reducing sanitary dressing practices of poultry, and giving critical carcass inspection duty to industry, which is an inherent conflict of interest.

HIMP would let poultry processing plants increase line speeds up to 175 carcasses per minute, with a single FSIS inspector on the slaughter line. The proposed rule eliminates the requirement that carcasses are inspected with their associated major organs, which is the only way to find certain diseases in the birds. The letter states that, “any modernized system must ensure the same stringency of carcass inspection, FSIS control of carcass inspection procedures, and control of adulterated poultry carcasses and parts so as to ensure no product that could threaten public health enters commerce.”

Sanitary dressing practices are critical to food safety. The requirements also lack specificity and give vague flexibility to establishments, according to the letter. The Congresspersons would prefer a proposal that strengthens FSIS policy and enforcement of sanitary processing methods and microbiologic testing that targets the bacteria most often implicated in foodborne illness caused by poultry.

Finally, the letter states a concern with work-related risks that could increase from repetitive motion, lacerations, and other hazards. Increasing line speeds could increase those risks. USDA should solicit input from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to mitigate these issues before the final proposal is published.

The letter ends by asking the USDA to consider these issues and withdraw the proposal or delay publishing the final rule until the issues are “adequately considered and addressed.” Food Poisoning Bulletin has been covering this issue since HIMP was first announced in January 2012. Other groups opposed to the proposal as written include Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Phyllis McKelvey, a former USDA poultry inspector, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Government Employees, Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, Food & Water Watch, and Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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