The National Chicken Council has denied Food & Water Watch lobbyist Tony Corbo’s request to work in a HACCP Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) poultry plant to better understand how the new program works.

Corbo recently wrote to NCC asking that the group make arrangements for him to work for a full week as a sorter in a poultry plant participating in HIMP, a pilot project that uses fewer federal inspectors, focuses the remaining inspectors on food safety tasks, and allows plants to operate with faster line speeds.

Food & Water Watch has sharply criticized a proposed rule to expand the pilot, calling the plan a privatization scheme that’s bad for public health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says the proposal will modernize the inspection system, save taxpayers millions, and prevent 5,200 foodborne illnesses annually.

“Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has repeatedly observed in recent weeks that most consumers do not know how their food is produced in this country. He is correct,” Corbo wrote to NCC. “Therefore, I want to learn first-hand how poultry processed with fewer government inspectors will lead to a safer and more wholesome food supply.”

Corbo requested the same training that a company sorter would get and sought unfettered access to both employees and food safety inspectors during off hours.

“Unfortunately, for legal as well as policy reasons, we are unable to encourage our member companies to grant your request,” wrote NCC president Michael Brown in a response sent late last week. “You are apparently under the incorrect impression that anyone can be adequately trained for the position you seek within a short amount of time.”

Brown said that company sorters receive “substantial training to recognized quality abnormalities on chicken carcasses to make sure they are removed from the line.”

“Most company sorters will have spent considerable time in training to recognize defects and deficiencies on chicken carcasses, and companies will have made substantial investments to ensure each employee performs competently,” wrote Brown, adding that labor laws, union restrictions, occupational safety and health requirements, and potential liability issues further complicated the matter.

The letter also called Corbo’s statements about HIMP “bold and unsubstantiated.”

Food & Water Watch has helped to organize thousands of comments and emails against expanding HIMP. In early March, the group released an unsavory analysis that found company inspectors sometimes miss poultry contaminated with feathers, bile and feces.

“Cutting the budget does not justify putting the health and safety of consumers and workers in the balance,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

For more on the proposed rule to expand HIMP, see recent Food Safety News coverage:

Debate Heats Up Over Poultry Inspection Proposal

House Panel Debates New Poultry Inspection Rule 

New Poultry Inspection Will Make a Difference, FSIS Says