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NCL offers concerns about new USDA poultry inspection plan

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January 23, 2012

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Washington, DC—Last week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen announced a plan to alter the structure of poultry inspection. NCL has issued the following statement on this change:

“The plan announced on Friday would transfer some inspection tasks from federal inspectors to plant personnel. The new system, which is based on a pilot program that USDA has run since 1997, would have poultry plants test for pathogens, such as salmonella, both before and after the chill step. This change would allow for real-time verification of a plant’s safety mechanisms, a change which NCL supports.”

“While there are some beneficial aspects of this proposal, NCL is concerned about several of the proposed changes. USDA has announced that as part of the changes, 2,500 inspection jobs will be shifted, with one-third of these being eliminated. NCL is concerned that the elimination of so many inspectors could have a negative impact on public health.”

“The agency has stated that it plans to issue guidance documents on the training of plant inspectors. NCL is concerned about this proposal being implemented before the guidance materials have been published and widely distributed and before any formal training has occurred. If the current level of food safety is to be maintained, it is essential that plant employees be appropriately trained for their new roles.”

“Additionally, some of these plants process poultry at speeds approaching 200 birds per minute. For NCL, this raises concerns that workers may be at risk due to the increased line speeds typical of such plants.”

“Because we are concerned about several of the proposed changes, NCL urges USDA to maintain its inspection presence in poultry plants until studies on worker safety and the effect of the proposed changes on food safety have been conducted and peer reviewed.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.