Poultry inspection controversy

Photo by AFGE via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Amy Mayer’s recent piece for Harvest Public Media examines a current proposal to change the USDA’s poultry inspection system. She writes,

Retired federal inspector Phyllis McKelvey spent 44 years looking for blemishes and other defects on chicken carcasses. She started as an inspector’s helper, worked her way up, and in 1998, became part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture trial.

“I was one of the first group of inspectors ever put on HIMP,” she said in an interview from her home in north Alabama.

Fourteen years later, the HIMP* [see footnote below] inspection system is at the center of controversial new regulations proposed by the USDA for chicken and turkey processors.  It’s all part of an attempt to modernize an inspection system that dates back to 1950s-era poultry law….

For links and a map of federally inspected poultry plants, as well as audio and print versions of Mayer’s full piece, head here.

The USDA program garnered attention and generated controversy last spring. Although it isn’t on the front pages today, the story continues. Three recent guest editorials at the website of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution help give a sense of some of the competing views. As moderator Rick Badie describes,

The USDA wants to reduce the number of chicken plant inspectors and increase line speeds that process and inspect carcasses to 175 birds per minute from 140. Critics, including two of today’s guest columnists, have cried foul with concerns about poultry worker safety and consumers of chicken products. A Georgia poultry executive defends the modernization of processing lines in an industry that contributes $18.4 billion a year to the state economy.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, writes in her contribution that

The USDA readily admits that the poultry industry will stand to earn an additional $260 million per year by removing the cap on line speeds, and tries to explain away the risk of contamination by promoting the use of a chemical cocktail at the end of the slaughter process. Companies are allowed to use chlorine, tri-sodium phosphate (used to clean cement) and hypobromous acid (used to clean swimming pools) to treat poultry for salmonella and to sterilize feces that might still be on carcasses.

The proposed rule puts company employees in the role of protecting consumer safety, but does not require them to receive any training or prove proficiency in performing duties normally performed by government inspectors who are required to take training before they are assigned to the slaughter line.

Lack of training is not the only impact this rule will have on workers. Increasing line speeds will have a negative impact on worker safety….

All three editorials are worth a read, so check them out here.


*Harvest Public Media translates this serving of classic bureaucratic alphabet soup: “HIMP stands for HACCP-based Inspection Models Program.  HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, a method of identifying potential problem areas and maintaining written plans for managing the risks they present.”

One comment

  1. Little Sis

    Since going weekday vegan (as I call it), I’ve missed many things, but chicken is not one of them and this change is just one more reason why I find them foul (ha).

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