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On January 27, 2012, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed a new inspection system for young poultry slaughter plants. The proposed rule places emphasis on quantity and quickness over quality. The current poultry inspection process allows for a line speed of 91 chickens per minute, while the new plan proposes a maximum line speed of 175 chickens per minute. In addition, the proposed rule will reduce the number of FSIS inspectors from four to two per line. One FSIS inspector – the carcass inspector – will be located near the end of the slaughter line and will visually examine each carcass. The second FSIS inspector – the verification inspector – will move along the slaughter line to continuously observe and evaluate the plant’s implementation of its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan.

This new proposed rule, which the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) opposes, would privatize the examining and sorting functions currently performed by FSIS inspectors, resulting in the probable loss of 1,000 FSIS inspector jobs. AFGE and many consumer groups also believe that the process of privatizing food inspection will significantly reduce the safety and quality of food available to consumers.

Stan Painter, Chairman of the AFGE National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, has several concerns about the new proposed rule. In the current poultry slaughter plants, FSIS inspectors are required to have at least three years of experience, through training, education or a combination of the two. The new proposed rule does not include language requiring experienced workers. “People will walk in off the streets, and they will put them in this position with no training,” said Painter.

Another issue with which Painter expressed concern is that, under the new proposed rule, the companies will be inspecting their own products. “Inspectors need to be impartial – and not be concerned about company profits, they need to be independent – and not be employed by the company, and they need to be looking out for the consumer – and not be looking out for the company,” Painter said. He noted that FSIS inspectors have the ability to be impartial because they do not have monetary gain behind the inspection process. FSIS inspectors want to help consumers rather than raise private company profits.

The proposed rule also requires the use of chemicals to kill bacteria in the poultry, such as salmonella. However, the long-term effects of these chemicals on human consumers are unknown. If something happens due to reduce food quality, “we will be held responsible,” Painter said. “They will throw us under the bus.”

In a statement released by Food and Water Watch, a nonpartisan consumer safety group, Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said the Obama administration should not implement the proposed rule “until all the facts are collected about whether it can achieve the same level of consumer protection as traditional inspection.”

Painter encourages consumers to contact their Members of Congress about the new proposed rule, or to submit comments on the proposed rule to the FSIS. He hopes that showing a lack of “consumer confidence” in privatized food inspection will lead to significant revisions in the proposed rule.

Comments on the new proposed rule must be submitted by April 26, 2012.

Online: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FSIS-2011-0012-0001.

Mail: Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), FSIS, Docket Clerk, Patriots Plaza 3, 355 E. Street SW., 8—163A, Mailstop 3782, Washington, DC 20250-3700.

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