August 10, 2020

USDA Increasing Chicken Slaughter Line Speeds, Granting Waivers

According to Food & Water Watch, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service granted another regulatory waived to a chicken plant to increase its chicken slaughter line speeds up to 175 birds per minute with only one FSIS trained inspected at the end of the line. The plant in question is the Foster Farms slaughter and processing plant in Kelso, Washington.

USDA Increasing Chicken Slaughter Line Speeds, Granting Waivers

Last year, the USDA allowed many chicken slaughter plants to increase their line speeds under the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS). One of those plants failed the FSIS Salmonella performance standard and is in violation of the new criteria established by USDA to qualify for line speed waivers, according to Food & Water Watch.

Chicken carcasses are put onto lines and moved past inspectors who check them for obvious flaws and signs of fecal contamination and other problems. Increased line speeds can mean it will be much more difficult for inspectors to find serious problems before the consumer eats the chicken.

Senior Government Affairs Representative for Food & Water Action Tony Corbo said in a statement, “FSIS inspectors are putting themselves on the line working in dangerous conditions so that the rest of us can eat safe food during the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, their bosses are thanking them by making that line even more dangerous.”

Food safety advocates have long opposed faster chicken slaughter line speeds. In 2012, the USDA proposed HIMP (HAACP-Based Inspection Models Project), which shifted the responsibility for poultry inspection from USDA to plant employees.

Legislators have also proposed the increased line speed and the shift from government to employee inspectors. They stated that increasing poultry line speeds not only makes it more difficult to inspect chicken carcasses, but increases the risk of injury for plant employees.

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