For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; drakestraw@fwwatch.org

USDA Inspectors Pressured to Keep Line Speeds Up Under Privatized Inspection System

“Heading Backwards to The Jungle,” Says Union Chair

WASHINGTON - Today, advocacy group Food & Water Watch sent a letter to USDA’s Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety to draw attention to a disturbing situation taking place in many large poultry slaughter plants, where USDA inspectors with the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are being pressured by their supervisors not to stop slaughter lines when problems occur.

The letter outlines what is occurring in many poultry slaughter plants that are participating in the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS), which allows company employees to perform food safety inspection tasks that were formerly the responsibility of USDA inspectors.

“When the USDA launched this new privatized inspection system, it did not require company employees to receive additional training before getting responsibility for sorting out potentially unsafe meat,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “But now we are hearing from USDA inspectors that company employees in some plants miss so many defective carcasses that the USDA inspectors at the end of the line have to stop to make sure they don’t reach consumers.”

"I have been an inspector for over 30 years and inspection has deteriorated because FSIS management has permitted it to do so,” said Stan Painter, Chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Local Unions. “We are rapidly heading backwards to The Jungle of 1906."

The problems that company employees are supposed to catch include visible fecal contamination on the carcass, scabs, burns, bruises, tumors, exudate (pus), sores, and breast blisters. Inspectors in some NPIS plants have reported being admonished by USDA supervisors for stopping the line too frequently and having company management monitor the number of times they stop the line.

 The plants where these problems have been occurring were part of the original pilot program for privatized inspection, the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project, and are allowed to operate at line speeds of 175 birds per minute. The USDA has announced that it intends to move forward with expanding the number of NPIS plants that can increase their line speeds to 175 birds per minute. These reports come after the recent suspension of an establishment in Mississippi that was also part of the original HIMP pilot. The group urged USDA to thoroughly analyze the problems happening in these plants before moving forward with any expansion of line speed waivers for NPIS plants.

“It is no surprise that these problems have surfaced in plants that were part of the original pilot program for privatized inspection, which lets the plants run at elevated line speeds,” said Hauter. “Rather than trying to blame inspectors for protecting consumers, USDA needs to figure out what is going wrong with company self-inspection in these plants.”

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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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