AFGE: new poultry inspection rules endanger public’s health

WASHINGTON (PAI)– The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents all federal poultry inspectors, is telling the Obama administration to reject planned new poultry inspection rules. Through a formal filing, a creative online campaign and even a petition to the White House, the union is emphasizing the result would be sick chickens and a danger to public health.

Whether the Agriculture Department will listen is not known. The public comment on the chicken inspection plan ended May 29.

The proposed new rules would force one inspector at each poultry processing line to inspect three chickens a second, more than three times as many as they inspect now .

AFGE said that would make it literally impossible to ensure every chicken is safe to eat.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced the new rule earlier this year, saying it would save millions of dollars on the cost of inspections over the next decade. It would also save poultry processors – who lobbied for it – some $250 million .

While the union mentioned that in its formal filing, it is emphasizing the threat to the country’s food in its objections. USDA’s plan “will ensure that increased numbers of adulterated poultry enter the marketplace, thereby endangering the health and safety of the American consumer,” AFGE assistant general counsel Matthew Milledge said in a 13-page document.

“For half a century, consumers have depended on the government to inspect their poultry for wholesomeness and to ensure the chicken they purchase is not adulterated. The government has played a vital role in ensuring food safety since Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, yet today the FSIS proposes to eschew its mandate and delegate poultry inspection to profit-minded corporations with little accountability or responsibility for food safety.

“Congress long ago determined that government inspection of poultry is essential to the public interest, and FSIS cannot unilaterally decide to privatize poultry inspection,” AFGE declared.

FSIS suggests “there may be fewer illnesses attributable to both Salmonella and Campylobacter when additional unscheduled offline inspection procedures are performed,” Milledge said. “This bold assertion is based on the USDA’s FSIS risk assessment published in Nov. 2011. However, FSIS’s attempt to justify the NPIS on this basis is flawed because the predictions are purely conjecture.”

Milledge also reminded USDA that the 1957 chicken inspection law says a federal inspector must undertake “a careful examination” of each chicken. The new rules would let inspectors or poultry plant supervisors inspect a sample of the chickens, AFGE commented.

Photo: USDA Chicken Safety rally, April 2. AFGE 



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.