USDA and Government Employees Union Disagree Regarding Inspection Proposal

Employee Union claims new USDA proposal to change poultry processing systems will endanger public.

Published on: Jun 1, 2012

The American Federation of Government Employees is battling a USDA proposal that would allow companies to organize and manage their own poultry inspections, limit the number of inspectors present on lines and permit faster line speeds.

In official AFGE comments, the union said that USDA’s plan to outsource inspections will endanger public and is a violation of federal law. AFGE represents thousands of federal meat and poultry inspectors.

“It exceeds the bounds of logic and common sense to reasonably contend that one person can carefully examine more than 80,000 chickens per workday when the carcasses are whizzing past the inspector at a rate of 3 chickens per second,” AFGE Assistant General Counsel Matthew Milledge wrote in the union’s official comments.

New regulations may change poultry inspections.
New regulations may change poultry inspections.

The USDA report maintains that establishment of a new system could facilitate the reduction of pathogen levels in poultry products by permitting the inspection service to conduct more food safety-related offline inspections. The report also says that the system could lead to industry innovations in operations and processing.

Contrary to the agency’s assertion that these changes would improve food safety, Milledge wrote that the proposal “will ensure that increased numbers of adulterated poultry enter the marketplace thereby endangering the health and safety of the American consumer.”

The proposal also eliminates the current requirement that federal inspectors examine the internal organs, or viscera, of each bird, including chicken livers and giblets. Additionally, the proposal includes changes chilling requirements.

The USDA said the changes are expected to result in a reduction of the price of poultry of about .6 to 1 cent per bird and a cost reduction of about 3 cents per bird.

AFGE has organized petition drives and other protests to battle the measure, including a whitehouse.gov petition, which has more than 17,000 signatures. In late April, they were able to extend the comment period another month from April 29 to May 29, in effort to convince USDA to repeal the proposal.

Full text of the proposal can be found here.