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GAO Report Questions USDA Plans to Change Poultry Inspection Program

A Government Accountability Office report being released Wednesday questions whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture used bad information to justify plans for nearly nationwide expansion of its poultry-inspection pilot program.

According to Tuesday’s Washington Post, the GAO report was requested by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has criticized USDA’s pilot program for allowing plants to speed up processing lines by as much as 25 percent and replace some government inspectors with poultry firm employees.

USDA officials say that the new procedures will save money, better identify problems in poultry-processing plants and be more likely to limit Salmonella and other pathogens.

However, GAO auditors found that USDA relied on data collected from processing plants more than 11 years ago and some from another study done more than 20 years ago. According to the Post article, GAO also said that USDA should not use data from chicken-processing plants and apply it to turkey plants.

Last year, USDA proposed expansion of its new processing procedures from the 29 plants where the pilot program was being conducted to nearly all of the 239 chicken and 96 turkey plants in the U.S.

Approval of the agency’s plans would have to come from the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, although Gillibrand has asked that agency’s administrator not to move forward until better research is done. She said that USDA collected more than 175,000 public comments on its proposed plans based on flawed information.

According to the Tuesday Post article, the GAO report also criticizes USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for not collecting and analyzing data from a similar previous pilot program conducted in pork-processing facilities. USDA officials have already agreed to comply with the GAO audit recommendations, the article stated.

The Post also reported this past spring on the increasing use of toxic antimicrobial chemicals in poultry-processing facilities to clean and disinfect carcasses on accelerated processing lines. Inspectors have complained about illness and injury from exposure to these chemicals.

© Food Safety News
  • CSI

    When I worked as a line inspector in a poulty plant the lines were way too fast then at 135bpm but also we were instructed to catch quality defects that had no bearing on food safety. I think the system is flawed myself, its not what you can see that can cause harm to your health its what you can’t see namely Salmonella,Listeria, Camphylocbacter just to name a few. For the most part the industry will benefit due to increased line speeds and more profit. If a plant had its own trained employees to do the job poultry inspectors now do and they were totally independent meaning when the process was out of control they could take action (stop the line, slow it down) without management interferrence then I would see no reason why HIMP wouldn’t work, I think for most part the loss of USDA inspector jobs or having to reassign the inspectors to other plants, namely beef and pork plants is why the union is so against it. I say it can’t be any worse than whats in place now.