BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Proposed
changes to poultry slaughter inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) might lead to potentially more risky chicken meat, federal poultry
inspectors in north Alabama warn.
state is the third largest producer of chicken meat in the United States, with
more than one billion chickens being produced on an annual basis. Alabama
poultry inspectors are concerned that if the changes, known as HIMP, are
approved, this could mean reduced control over the quality of the meat. The
USDA proposes that the current number of four federal inspectors who examine
poultry carcasses on the conveyor belts is cut to just one, while the maximum
allowed speed for the conveyor belts should be increased to 175 birds per
minute. In addition, changes will also affect the way processing companies test
for bacteria, as the USDA plans to introduce new guidelines.
main purpose of introducing HIMP is ensuring safety and reducing costs.
According to advocates of the changes, they would not only make the entire
process cheaper for both poultry processing companies and consumers, but would
also make products safer because of increased bacteria testing. The USDA argues
that inspectors are currently spending too much time examining the dead birds
for cosmetic flaws, such as bruises and bumps, and that this part of the
examination could be handed over to the companies themselves. The department
has still not set a time frame within which the changes would be put in place
nationwide, but the new guidelines have been tested at 20 plants in different
states, including four in Alabama, the Gadsden Times reported.
this year Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary, said that improvements to the
inspection system would lead to better protection of public health, reduce
spending and make inspections more efficient. The focus of inspectors'' activity
will be shifted onto testing for foodborne illness risks in order to promote
food safety, he explained. The USDA estimates that the changes will save
taxpayers more than $90 million over a three-year period and bring production
costs down by at least $256.6 million per year.
inspectors who have seen the proposed changes in action at the processing
plants in Alabama claim that a fourfold reduction of the number of inspectors
involved in the monitoring cannot mean safer products. On the contrary —
conveyor belts move at a rate of three birds per second and one inspector will
be required to test birds for diseases in a third of a second, Phyllis
McKelvey, a retired federal inspector from Albertville, told the Gadsden Times.
have also been raised by consumer rights group Food & Water Watch, which
warned in a statement that delegating monitoring duties to processing plant
employees might prove risky, as they have not been trained to protect public
health the way USDA inspectors have. Food & Water Watch recently researched
a pilot program and found an alarming amount of poultry contaminated with
feces, bile and feathers, which inspection had overlooked, the statement said.