April 19, 2024

GAO Criticizes USDA Proposal to Privatize Poultry Inspection

The Government Accountability Office released an analysis yesterday of the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) in poultry slaughter. The USDA is using that project to justify a proposal to private poultry inspection in some plants in this country. The proposed rule, called “Modernization of Poultry Inspection” published in January 2012, would use untrained company employees to replace most FSIS inspectors on the poultry slaughter lines. The rule would also increase chicken plant line speeds to increase to 175 birds-per-minute from 140, raising questions about worker safety and food safety.

Chicken CarcassesSenator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) requested the GAO report. The report evaluated USDA’s examination of 20 young chicken plants and 5 young turkey plants for the HIMP proposal and found methodological flaws in the project. Allowing employees to inspect the slaughter lines without training and the faster line speeds were the two main criticisms. In addition, the report says that USDA did not gather cost information from the turkey plant project, and generalized the results from the chicken plant project. The GAO recommends that FSIS “clearly disclose to the public limitations in the information – including the cost-benefit analysis – the agency relied on for the rule making to modernize poultry slaughter inspections.”

Consumer groups are concerned that USDA will not hold public meetings on this proposal, and prevented its National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection from conducting an evaluation of HIMP or making recommendations on the proposed rule.¬†Food & Water Watch Executive Wenonah Hauter said in a statement, “The GAO saw through the euphemistically named ‘modernization’ proposal and confirmed our fears that FSIS does not have the scientific basis to justify privatizing poultry inspection. Since 2008 we’ve know that the HIMP model jeopardizes food safety and this latest GAO report will hopefully serve as a wake-up call for the elimination for HIMP in order to protect consumers.”

The Souhthern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights groups formed a coalition and filed a formal petition on September 3, 2013, asking the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue new work speed standards in meat and poultry plants. They also asked for FSIS to reconsider the proposed poultry inspection rule change.

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