GAP Releases Early Evidence From HIMP Investigation – Shocking Whistleblower Affidavits Detailing Dangers of Poultry Plant Self-Inspection
Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) is releasing evidence it has gathered from federal poultry inspectors/whistleblowers about the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposal to fully implement a high-speed poultry production model known as the HAACP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) – designed by the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) that allows greater corporate "self-policing" of the poultry industry.
GAP has spoken with multiple FSIS inspectors stationed at different plants across different states that mass-produce whole chickens. GAP is making publicly available affidavits from actual inspectors – those employees inside of the plants who monitor the safety and wholesomeness of poultry. These affidavits, which illustrate the serious problems that the HIMP program directly poses to food safety, are all from inspectors at different plants. GAP plans to release more in the coming weeks.
"Industry has established its own inspection baseline," stated Amanda Hitt, Director of GAP's Food Integrity Campaign (FIC). "The new standard for poultry isn't 'would you eat it' but 'will it kill you or make you sick.' These firsthand reports from USDA inspectors clearly show that processed chickens will become more dangerous if this plan is enacted."
Just some of the numerous problems that all three whistleblower inspector affidavits independently raise include:
- At non-HIMP plants, line speeds for bird inspection are set at 72-90 birds per minute (bpm) with multiple federal inspectors monitoring the line, so that each inspector is in charge of overseeing approximately 30-36 bpm. Our whistleblowers have worked in HIMP plants where that jumps up to 200 bpm for one inspector. That means 10,000 birds per hour per federal inspector! These rates are so fast, that inspectors simply cannot look at every bird.
- Under HIMP plans, federal inspectors are replaced with plant workers who are powerless to speak out against their employers, and are responsible for removing adulterated product. The inspector whistleblowers have witnessed that these sorters are "rebuked by supervisors" when they try to slow down the line for food safety concerns.
- Under traditional inspection methods, inspectors can see all sides (and the inside) of the bird. But inspectors at HIMP plants can only see the backside of the bird – not the front (where the breast meat is) that may clearly show tumors or scabs. Nor can HIMP inspectors see the inside of the bird, where fecal matter and other disease causing abnormalities are found.
- In each Inspector's case, the placement of the "Critical Control Point (CCP)" – the main purpose of which is to identify and catch potential food safety problems – under the HIMP plan was moved to a point further down the conveyor line, after a key "Inspection Station." This has the effect of taking away the inspectors' ability to see noncompliances or issue Noncompliance Reports (NRs), documentation showing a plant CCP's failure to prevent important regulatory violations. Multiple NRs can lead to increased enforcement action against the plant.
- Each inspector clearly conveys in their affidavit that, if the HIMP plan is implemented nationwide, it is more likely that unsafe products will reach consumers.
Criticism of HIMP and its effect on food safety has been widespread among consumer advocates, including FIC. "These affidavits reveal that HIMP plants may not be safe," Hitt continued. "Corporate 'self-policing' plans should not be operating, let alone expanded significantly. Make no mistake – HIMP does nothing to protect the wholesomeness of chicken or the integrity of the food on your family's table."
The names of the inspectors, and all identifying information of the specific plants, have been redacted upon the requests of the inspectors. Whistleblower protections for USDA-regulated government employees – like these inspectors – are extremely weak, and retaliation for exposing safety issues is commonplace. These affidavits have the full backing of GAP, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
The USDA is accepting public comments on the regulations until April 26, 2012. GAP has launched an investigation into the concerns brought up by these whistleblowers, whose anonymous affidavits are critical in providing the agency with first-hand accounts of the disastrous consequences of full implementation of the proposed "Modernization of Poultry Inspection" rule. GAP hopes to hear from more USDA inspection whistleblowers – confidentially or not – who can shed light on exactly what is going on inside HIMP plants.
Direct Quotes from the Affidavits
- I am making this statement because, based on my many years of experience as a HIMP inspector, I know that the claims the government is making about the HIMP program are not true. I also have children and I am concerned about the poultry products they may eat if this program is implemented nationally. (Affidavit #1)
- ...I believe that unsafe and unwholesome birds will be more likely to reach consumers. (Affidavit #1)
- I've seen sorters attempt to slow down or stop the line to move birds to the reprocessing line, only to be rebuked by their supervisors. (Affidavit #1) GAP Note: 'Sorters' are non-USDA plant workers.
- I believe that more unwholesome and potentially harmful products will reach consumers if the HIMP system is mandated on a national scale. (Affidavit #2)
- My experience under both inspection systems is that poultry plants are concerned with making money and not protecting the consumer, inspectors fulfill this crucial role instead. (Affidavit #2)
- Under the traditional system, our inspection was characterized by a "hands on" mentality ... Under HIMP, we are explicitly told to be "hands off." (Affidavit #2)
- Plant "sorters" are supposed to pull birds from the line for defects or food safety issues, with little, if any, training about what to look for. (Affidavit #2)
- It is my experience that the HIMP guidelines for USDA inspectors give too much power to the plants themselves, which are concerned primarily with keeping the line speeds up and maintaining productivity. USDA inspectors are trained to protect the consumer, but we are not supported by the Agency to do so when they create systems like HIMP. (Affidavit #2)
- The Agency says that its proposal to make HIMP the primary inspection system is based on food safety objectives. However, from what I have seen, I do not know how they can make that claim. (Affidavit #3)
- Under HIMP, the plant is supposed to be responsible for producing a safe and wholesome product. In my opinion, we are not holding them to that standard. (Affidavit #3)
- ...with 10,000 or more birds going down the line in an hour, there is not much of a chance that the [inspector] will find such defects even if many birds violate the regulations. (Affidavit #3)