The USDA is defending itself today against outrage from consumer advocacy and food safety groups over its new proposal to speed up production lines in chicken processing plants and handing over more power to the poultry industry to self police. The proposal would mean that federal inspectors would have one third of a second to check chickens for disease and contamination. It would also replace USDA inspectors on the line with plant workers.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, which oversees poultry plants, believes the changes would “ensure and even enhance the safety of the poultry supply by focusing our inspectors’ efforts on activities more directly tied to improving food safety.”"
The proposal also gives a lot more decision-making to the plants, “allowing them to decide how much training their workers receive in identifying diseased or defected birds; allow plants speed up their slaughter lines so that the sole federal inspector, stationed at the end of the line, would be required to view up to 175 birds per minute. The maximum speed now is 140 per minute, but that workload is divided among four inspectors so that it averages out at 35 per minute for each inspector; and let poultry plants decide what dangerous bacteria they test carcasses for and how often they test, and no longer require plants to test for E. coli.”
In addition to saving taxpayers an estimated $90 million over three years, the poultry industry will save $256 million over that same time period.
As one independent poultry plant owner put it, it’s a case of the fox now watching the hen house.