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Groups Ask OMB, USDA to Release Revised Poultry Rule for Public Comment

Organizations representing workers and consumers want the Department of Agriculture to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s lead by releasing the revised poultry inspection rule for public comment.

Last week, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) submitted a draft final version of its Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.

At the time, an agency spokesperson said, “Although we do not discuss the specifics of a rule under review, the draft rule has been significantly informed by the feedback we received from our stakeholders, as well as from our interagency partners such as the Department of Labor.”

But, in a July 16 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Howard Shelanski, administrator for OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the Safe Food Coalition argued that “stakeholders have no information about what those changes entail.”

The group wants to see the revised rule released to the public for public meetings and a 120-day comment period — not a requirement under normal rule-making procedures.

“We have raised numerous concerns about the negative impact USDA’s proposal will have on food safety and consumer protection,” wrote signatories Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, Government Accountability Project, National Consumers League and STOP Foodborne Illness.

The American Federation of Government Employees — the poultry inspectors’ union — sent a similar letter stating, “Many other labor unions, consumer groups, members of Congress, and even federal government agencies have raised concerns as well.”

AFGE Legislative and Political Director Beth Moten wrote that, because the rule is so important, “stakeholders and the public should be given the opportunity to comment on the ‘significant changes’ made to the proposed rule before it is finalized.”

Re-releasing the rule would not be unprecedented. By the end of the summer, FDA will release revised language for the Food Safety Modernization Act’s rules regarding human food preventive controls, animal food preventive controls, produce safety and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program.

The same move for the poultry inspection rule would enhance transparency, the groups said.

“The USDA needs to come clean about what changes it has since made to the rule,” stated the Organic Consumers Association in its call for public comment. “Otherwise, the agency’s lack of transparency on this issue leaves us wondering what it is hiding.”

When asked whether FSIS plans to re-release the rule, a spokesperson told Food Safety News that the agency would have no further comment beyond last week’s statement that the rule had been submitted to OMB after incorporating stakeholder feedback — in particular, worker safety concerns.

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