For Immediate Release
Food & Water Watch Opposes National Chicken Council Petition To Increase Poultry Slaughter Line Speeds
WASHINGTON - National advocacy group Food & Water Watch said today it opposes the petition filed on September 1, 2017 by the National Chicken Council with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to lift the line speed cap for poultry slaughter facilities that was set in the 2014 regulation creating the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).
Food & Water Watch opposed the final rule creating NPIS and went to court to challenge the legality of the new inspection system because it essentially privatizes poultry inspection by turning most of the on-line slaughter inspection over to the companies to conduct themselves, leaving only one USDA inspector on each slaughter line.
“We were concerned about the food safety implications of implementing NPIS and we also believed that USDA did not take into consideration worker safety and animal welfare concerns when making this dramatic change to poultry inspection,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The only positive in that final rule was the cap on the line speeds in chicken plants to 140 birds per minute (bpm) instead of increasing them to 175 bpm, as USDA had originally proposed. But even at 140 bpm, a lone USDA inspector is checking 2.33 birds every second under NPIS as opposed to the one bird every two seconds under the traditional inspection system.”
The NPIS is based on a 15-year pilot program that the agency conducted in 25 poultry plants – 20 chicken and five turkey facilities – that permitted those plants to operate at higher line speeds with fewer USDA inspectors stationed on the slaughter lines.
Industry acceptance of NPIS has been slow. While the USDA projected that 219 of the 280 poultry slaughter plants would convert to NPIS, fewer than 75 have requested to convert. According to the petition filed earlier this month, the chicken industry claims that the line speed cap is holding them back.
The petition comes in the midst of ongoing confusion about the industry’s performance on reducing Samonella. While the National Chicken Council petition claims that food safety in the pilot plants was just as good or even better than in plants that had operated with the full complement of USDA inspectors, since the NPIS rule was implemented in 2014 Food & Water Watch discovered that the agency’s Salmonella testing program prior to July 2016 was flawed for all poultry plants, and it had to change its protocols. The National Chicken Council had previously complained to the FSIS that the more stringent Salmonella performance standards implemented by the agency in May 2016 were based on the data gathered when the testing program was flawed.
“The National Chicken Council is looking out for profits, not food safety,” said Hauter. “The agency must reject this petition and preserve the cap on line speeds that protects both consumers and slaughterhouse workers.”
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