Coalition of Consumer, Labor, Public Health, Civil Rights Groups Urge USDA to Withdraw Poultry Slaughter Proposal Due to Food Safety, Worker Safety Concerns

September 20, 2012

Contact:

Chris Waldrop, Consumer Federation of America, 202-797-8551

Gynnie Robnett, OMB Watch, 202-683-4813       

A coalition of 23 groups and 16 individuals today urged the Department of Agriculture to withdraw a proposal that increases poultry processing line speeds and removes hundreds of federal inspectors from poultry processing plants.

The proposal, which would modify USDA’s poultry slaughter inspection program, increases the poultry line speed to an unsafe level and allows plant employees to replace federal government inspectors for certain inspection activities. In addition, the proposal reduces the numbers of federal inspectors working at poultry plants. While the poultry inspection program does need improving, the proposal was developed with limited public input. USDA did not consult with its inspection advisory committee prior to issuing its proposal; nor were public meetings held to solicit the views of the public before the proposal was announced.  In addition, the groups highlighted a number of critical food safety and worker safety concerns raised by the proposal.

Specifically, the coalition is alarmed by the proposed increase in poultry slaughter line speeds to 175 birds per minute, a five-fold increase over current speeds. At such rates, government inspectors would have only one-third of a second to examine each chicken carcass for food safety risks and other problems. Further, increased line speeds would contribute to higher rates of carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries among poultry plant workers.

The coalition is also concerned that the proposal would change the standards for accepting or rejecting birds. There is no provision in the new rule mandating training of plant employees, who would be assigned tasks previously conducted by federal government inspectors. USDA whistleblowers have commented that plant workers with insufficient training often overlook things.  Moreover, employers might pressure plant employees to let as many birds pass as possible. As a result, there would likely be an increase in the rate of “defects” such as bruises, scabs, bile and ingesta on the carcasses.

Finally, the coalition is concerned that the proposal does not require a standard for testing of poultry. Instead, the proposal would allow each plant to develop its own testing protocol. Plants would also not be required to test for Salmonella or Campylobacter, the two foodborne pathogens most often associated with raw poultry.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been no significant progress since 1999 in reducing illnesses from Salmonella and Campylobacter. Salmonella is the leading cause of death and hospitalization due to a known foodborne pathogen.  A 2011 report from the University of Florida found that Campylobacter in poultry led the list of pathogen/food combinations that account for 60% of all foodborne illnesses.

The coalition is urging the Department of Agriculture to withdraw the proposal until these issues and others can be adequately addressed.

The letter was signed by the following groups and individuals:

 

AFL-CIO

American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO

CATA, El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas

 

Center for Food Safety

 

Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention

 

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.

Consumer Federation of America

 

Center for Science in the Public Interest

 

Food & Water Watch

 

Government Accountability Project

Midwest Coalition for Human Rights

 

National Consumers League

National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

National Council for Occupational Safety and Health

National Employment Law Project

 

Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest

OMB Watch


Public Citizen

Southern Poverty Law Center

STOP Foodborne Illness

 

United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities

U.S. PIRG

Worksafe

Individual signatories

(Affiliations/Organizations Listed for Identification Purposes Only)

Barbara A. Frey
Director, Human Rights Program
University of Minnesota

 

Matthew Keifer MD, MPH

Dean Emanuel Endowed Chair and Director

National Farm Medicine Center

Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation

Marshfield, WI

 

Andrea Kidd Taylor, DrPH, MSPH

Lecturer

Morgan State University School of Community Health & Policy

Baltimore, MD

 

Paul Landsbergis, PhD, MPH

Associate Professor

Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

School of Public Health

State University of New York-Downstate Medical Center

Brooklyn, NY

 

Martha T. McCluskey

Professor, SUNY-Buffalo Law School

Member Scholar, Center for Progressive Reform

 

Thomas O. McGarity

Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair in Administrative Law

University of Texas—Austin School of Law

Board Member, Center for Progressive Reform

Mary E. Miller, MN, RN
Occupational Health Nurse
Washington State

Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH

Professorial Lecturer

Dept of Environmental & Occupational Health

School of Public Health & Health Services

George Washington University

Washington, DC

Karen B. Mulloy, DO, MSCH

Associate Professor

Colorado School of Public Health

Nancy Nivison Menzel, PhD, RN, PHCNS-BC, CPH, CNE

Associate Professor

School of Nursing

University of Nevada

Las Vegas, Nevada

 

Kimberly Rauscher, MA, ScD

Assistant Professor

WVU School of Public Health

WVU Injury Control Research Center

Morgantown, WV

 

Beth Rosenberg, ScD, MPH

Assistant Professor

Department of Public Health & Community Medicine

Tufts University School of Medicine

Boston, MA

 

Jeanne Sears, PhD, RN

Senior Research Scientist

Department of Health Services

University of Washington

Seattle, WA

 

Sidney A. Shapiro

University Chair in Law, Wake Forest University

Vice-President, Center for Progressive Reform

 

Craig Slatin, ScD, MPH

Professor, Department of Community Health and Sustainability

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Lowell, MA

Editor, New Solutions, A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy

 

Rena I. Steinzor

Professor, University of Maryland Carey School of Law

President, Center for Progressive Reform