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For Immediate Release


Seth Gladstone, sgladstone[at]fwwatch@org, 917.363.6615

Press Release

Avian Leukosis Now Fit for Human Consumption

‘Cancer Chicken’ Gift to Poultry Industry is a Threat to Public Health

On Friday evening, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced its approval of a petition filed by the National Chicken Council to permit chicken that is infected with the avian disease Leukosis to be fit for human consumption. Until now, chicken carcasses found to have this disease were to be condemned and removed from further processing. In its petition, the Chicken Council alleged that the sampling requirements for Leukosis under the controversial New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) were an “undue regulatory burden” on the industry as they were impeding more poultry plants from adopting the privatized inspection model in poultry slaughter.  In addition, the Chicken Council argued that organs exhibiting Leukosis can simply be trimmed of the tumors rather than condemning the entire carcass. FSIS agreed.

In response, Food & Water Watch Sr. Government Affairs Representative Tony Corbo issued the following statement:

“In another Friday night special, FSIS just granted industry a ‘cancer chicken’ gift that permits plants to process and sell infected poultry. This abdication of responsibility for public health by FSIS is absurd and dangerous. The agency has historically recognized avian Leukosis as unfit for human consumption. But under the Trump administration, preventing unwholesome food from reaching consumer dinner tables is an ‘undue burden on industry.’ FSIS plans to publish a proposed rule to implement the National Chicken Council’s petition. We will fight it. 

“In another gift to the industry, FSIS also plans to propose lifting the line speed cap in all NPIS broiler plants from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute without the need to file a regulatory waiver request with the agency. We will fight this as well.  This is all occurring in the middle of a pandemic where thousands of meatpacking and poultry plant workers and hundreds of FSIS inspectors have become ill from COVID-19.  What are FSIS’s priorities?”

In an existing training guide FSIS prepared for company inspectors under NPIS, the agency says the following:

Leukosis is a tumor-causing (neoplastic) viral infection of young chickens. The tumors are seldom seen now because of the vaccination of all birds. The tumors are often small, round, well-defined white to tan nodules in the liver, spleen, or kidney. In the liver or other organs the tumors may appear as white specks. When the skin is affected, the tumors appear in the feather follicle as bumps that are round, small, and whitish to light yellow in color.

Leukosis can appear in just the viscera or just in the skin of the carcass; but any carcass affected with only one (or more) of the leukosis tumors in the skin or the viscera are unwholesome; both the carcass and its viscera must be disposed of properly to ensure they are not used as human food.

What to Look For:

•One or more tumors in the visceral organs or the skin.

•Tumors appear white to tan, small, round, and well-defined.

•Carcasses with one or more of these tumors are unwholesome, and the entire carcass and viscera must be disposed of properly as described above.


Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

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