The President’s budget, released earlier this week, has garnered a lot of media attention. There have been criticisms and questions from all sides. As a member of a coalition of labor and food safety advocates, my main concern was the inclusion of savings from the implementation of a new model of poultry inspection.
We’ve been talking about this program for a long time, advocating against it and trying to raise public concern. The concerns that we have enumerated before still stand; we are gravely troubled by the fact that the program could potentially increase the rates of certain foodborne illnesses and would put workers at a higher risk for musculoskeletal injuries. These injuries are caused by repetitive motion and the rule would allow plants to process up to 175 birds per minute; that’s three birds per second!
Clearly USDA disagrees with our assessment of the program—hence the inclusion of the program’s projected savings in the budget. They insist that these changes will improve rates of foodborne illness and will have no impact on workers. Given the number of unanswered questions that remain, we feel moving forward with this program would be irresponsible. What advocates are suggesting isn’t radical; study the impact of changes, to both food and worker safety, before making them. And if those studies show the changes would be harmful, don’t make them just to save a few bucks.