January 17, 2018

Congress Members Ask for More Answers on Poultry Inspection

Fifteen members of Congress sent a letter last week to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about the new poultry inspection system that has been criticized by consumer, food safety, and workplace safety advocates. They wrote they are “extremely disappointed” that the USDA did not address their concerns about the new rule about HIMP, or the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).

Chicken carcass on lineThe letter states “the new rule will create a system that is detrimental to food and worker safety, as well as animal welfare. This rule abdicates food safety oversight from the USDA into the hands of industry and it places workers in jeopardy.” The rule removes USDA-FSIS inspectors from processing lines in poultry plants and instead lets corporations use their own employees for inspections. This creates a conflict of interest, since employees are more likely to want to please their employers than any government official.

The letter states several questions the stakeholders have about the new rule. The Representatives want Vilsack to explain in detail the timetable for implementing the new rule in those plants, and will the government increase regulatory sampling at plants following NPIS implementation to ensure that the system is working. What are additional food safety activities that off line USDA inspectors will do in the slaughterhouses? Why did USDA decide to drop generic E. coli for testing as an indicator organism? And how will the agency evaluate the validity of HACCP plans that shift to NPIS?

The Congress members also want to know about processing line speeds; if they will be increased in the future, and if health hazard evaluation of works have been conducted. Finally, they want to know how FSIS will ensure that animal welfare laws are adhered to without government inspectors, and what is FSIS’s plan for monitoring to ensure that birds aren’t slaughtered while conscious under NPIS.

The signers include RepresentativesLouise Slaughter (D-CT), Rosa DeLauro (D-NY), Repreentative Charles Rangel (D-NY), Janice D. Schakowsky (D- IL), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), and Julia Brownley (D-CA), among others. They want answers from Vilsack within 30 days from the date of the letter.

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