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USDA’s Salmonella Action Plan Misses the Mark
Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director
WASHINGTON - December 4 - “Today the USDA released its new Salmonella Action Plan, which highlights a controversial proposal to radically change inspection of poultry products as a top priority in battling salmonella. Unfortunately, this new packaging doesn’t make the ‘Modernization of Poultry Inspection’ proposal any more logical or protective of public health. It is still a deregulation of the poultry industry that will put consumers, workers and even animal welfare at risk.
“USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service wants to expand a pilot project in place in two-dozen plants to 200 poultry plants across the country. The proposed change would remove most FSIS inspectors from the slaughter lines and replace them with untrained company employees, allowing processing companies to police themselves. It would also permit chicken plants to increase line speeds to 175 birds-per-minute. FSIS has received hundreds of thousands of comments from consumers opposed to this change and worker safety advocates have raised serious concerns that poultry plant workers will suffer increased rates of injuries trying to keep up with increased line speeds.
“This fall, the Government Accountability Office released a report on the pilot project that is being used to justify this proposed change. The GAO evaluated 20 young chicken and five young turkey plants and found gaping methodological flaws in the pilot project. The GAO also questioned how FSIS could use its flawed evaluation of the pilot project as the basis to propose expanding the privatized inspection model across the entire poultry industry.
“This flawed proposed rule cannot serve as the foundation of any serious plan to reduce salmonella rates in meat and poultry products. To really tackle the salmonella problem, USDA should not be trying to cut government inspection of poultry products. Instead the Obama administration needs to get the legal authority from Congress to hold companies accountable for putting contaminated food into commerce, not deregulate inspection.
“We also call into question the salmonella reduction statistics that the agency is touting in its press release. While the Centers for Disease Control has stated that minimal progress has been made to reduce the number of food borne illness outbreaks associated with salmonella contamination, FSIS argues that salmonella rates in young chickens have decreased by 75% since 2006. The agency is deriving these numbers from its regulatory testing program that is not based on random sampling. In fact, the agency concluded in a 2012 research paper (“Use of FSIS Regulatory Verification Sampling to Generate Prevalence Estimates”) that accurate prevalence estimates for salmonella could not be calculated by the data generated in its current salmonella testing program.
“Instead of deregulating inspection, the agency needs to go to Congress and seek the legislative authority to fix the current legal loophole in the Federal Meat Inspection and Poultry Products Inspection Acts so that it can effectively regulate salmonella as a food borne pathogen.”
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.