Thus far, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has failed to acknowledge the concerns of USDA poultry inspectors regarding his agency's proposal to increase line speeds and privatize inspection at processing plants. The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), despite being the public health arm of the agency, seems to be promoting industry profit, as corporations stand to save a projected $125 million a year with the new plan in place, while consumer and plant worker safety pays the price.
Whistleblowers, however, continue to speak out against the plan.
FIC has launched a TakePart petition urging Vilsack to heed the concerns of whistleblowers (as well as other government agencies) and drop the plan.
Just one reason the proposal is a bad idea? Under the plan, harmful health impacts from excess chemical use at poultry plants will only become more serious and widespread. Last night, WSB-TV ran a story featuring poultry plant workers (including former USDA inspector Sherry Medina) who say that chemicals sprayed on the chicken carcasses are making workers sick. Watch the story below:
FIC Director Amanda Hitt was featured in the story, explaining that the blast of chemicals on all the carcasses (even ones without contamination) is "the industry's little secret" to cut corners. Watch a bonus interview with Hitt here.
These chemical concerns will assuredly worsen under the poultry inspection plan. If that’s not reason enough to abandon this plan, here are other concerns Vilsack and FSIS have failed to acknowledge:
- The Government Accountability Office reported that the USDA plan relied on incomplete and antiquated data, challenging the agency's assertions that the changes will improve food safety.
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a research arm of the CDC, said USDA misinterpreted study findings regarding the impact of increased line speeds on worker health. USDA said the study showed that increasing speeds was not a threat, but NIOSH said it came to no such conclusion.
- Whistleblowers are deeply concerned that the stronger chemicals being used at plants may be masking true pathogen risk.
- Animal welfare concerns are tied to the increased line speeds. At the already rapid pace of processing lines, birds are improperly shackled and stunned, causing about 825,000 chickens to die each year in the scalding tank of boiling water instead of by the more humane automated blade swipe earlier on the slaughter line. Increasing speeds could exacerbate these numbers.
How can the agency deny all of these points? USDA needs to get out of the industry’s pocket and heed the voices of its own employees.
Please sign our petition! Let Vilsack know that he needs to take these warnings seriously and withdraw this proposal.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.