President Obama’s Budget Proposal Assumes Flawed Poultry Inspection Rule Will Be Finalized

poultry inspection

Yesterday, the president released the proposed budget for funding the federal government in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. The budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) assumes savings from finalizing a controversial proposed rule to change the way chickens and other poultry are inspected in processing plants. The budget proposal is a disappointment to food safety and worker safety advocates as there is no evidence that the safety concerns associated with the rule have been addressed.

The rule would shift responsibility for inspections away from agency inspectors and allow employees of the slaughtering plants to do their own inspections of the chickens they prepare for market. The agencies have touted savings “realized through the modernization of poultry slaughter inspection.”

Under the new system, there will be fewer federal inspectors at each poultry plan and fewer visual inspections of chicken carcasses. FSIS estimates that it will save between $85 million and $95 million over the next three years.  Poultry companies estimate that they will save about $250 million   because when inspectors aren’t examining each poultry carcass, the poultry processors can speed up the production line. Under the proposed rule, employees would have 1/3 a second to examine each carcass.

The rulemaking process is not yet complete, but the proposed FY 2014 budget presumes the rule will be finalized. The USDA received thousands of comments from public health advocates and safety experts opposing the rule, and a diverse set of consumer and public interest groups asked USDA to withdrawal it. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told attendees at a briefing held yesterday that he expects the final rule to be sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review soon.

Safety advocates have urged the agency to assess whether the rule would jeopardize consumer health and to consider the potential costs to the American workers involved in processing poultry (both plant workers and inspectors). At least 48 million people (1 in 6) are sickened by a food-borne illness each year. If finalized, this rule could increase that number. 

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