Last week the USDA released its final rule on updated poultry slaughterhouse regulations.
The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS is a branch of the USDA that deals with these matters) rules update the inspection process by providing more specialized training to inspectors, allowing them to inspect facilities for hazards, requiring more birds to be inspected, and a number of other updates which, according to USA Today’s interview with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack “is a significant opportunity to bring the inspection system into the 21st century." Are these real improvements? Marion Nestle recently wrote a blog post that helps us decide.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about this rule is the limit on the line speed (how fast the chickens “fly” by the inspectors). The poultry industry, originally asked provision of increasing the line speed up to 175 birds a minute, which was rejected. That’s probably a good thing, despite industry claims that this can be done safely. But, is what we are left with any better?
The current speed is 140 birds per minute.
This means 2.33 birds per second.
That’s fast! Really fast! And under the new rules, there will be fewer inspectors to view these fast-flying fowl. Despite all of the benefits listed by the USDA, Nestle points out a few major complaints about the rule (which are echoed by Food and Water Watch’s Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, and Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaals): it privatizes inspection, allowing slaughterhouses assess their own safety; allows waivers to companies who are in a pilot program running their lines at 175 birds per minute; and makes provisions voluntary.
That being said, the rule may be a step in the right direction. The real problems with this rule go far beyond the FSIS and are really about a broken food system. In the meantime, Nestle offers a diplomatic view:
I’d rather have USDA inspectors making sure prevention controls are in place and adhered to, the testing is done honestly, and keeping an eye out for unsafe worker conditions (which, alas, is not their job).
Let’s give it a try and see how it works in practice."
We’ll keep a close eye on this one for sure.
USDA’s new poultry inspection system, complicated but voluntary via Food Politics
USDA overhauls decades-old poultry inspections via USA Today
Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection via USDA Food Safety Inspection Services