October 16, 2018

House Committee Urges USDA to Finalize Controversial Poultry Rule

The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment on June 13, 2013 urging the USDA to finalize its controversial rule to modernize poultry inspection. The amendment was offered by Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) and passed by a voice vote.

Congress BuildingThe rule, known as the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), has been criticized by consumer groups, members of Congress, and the former poultry inspectors. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) sent a letter to the USDA last December asking officials to withdraw HIMP because of issues such as giving carcass inspection duty to industry, a conflict of interest. The USDA delayed implementation of the rule last year, extending the comment period partly because of the negative comments from food safety advocates.

Under HIMP, USDA inspectors will not check birds for visual defects on the line, and line speeds will increase from 120 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. HIMP has not been independently reviewed since the 2001 GAO report that was critical of the proposal. Groups opposed to HIMP include the Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Food & Water Watch, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)

In fact, PCRM recently said that they obtained a USDA training video about poultry slaughter. A federal inspector said that they see birds going down the line with intestines full of feces still attached. But if there’s no fecal contamination on the bird’s skin, they can’t stop the bird from continuing down the line and going into the chill tank, which PCRM calls “fecal soup”.

In a March 2013 petition to the USDA, which was updated in May, PCRM asked that feces be declared an adulterant in poultry products and that labels should warn consumers about likely contamination. In that petition, PCRM states that the proposed rule would “allow visibly contaminated poultry carcasses to remain online for treatment by a system of automatic bird washers and antimicrobial spraying or drenching equipment, rather than having to be moved off the line to an offline reprocessing station.”

During markup, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said she has concerns about the rule, and wants to see HIMP delayed until OSHA studies are completed. She said she also has concerns about how the new rule would affect food safety.

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