The USDA proposal to largely outsource poultry inspections functions and drastically speed up the visual inspection process violates federal law and must not be allowed to proceed, the nation's largest federal employee union said in official comments on the proposal.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents thousands of federal meat and poultry inspectors, submitted comments to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service on Friday, May 25. More than 2,000 comments were submitted before the comment period ended May 29.
The USDA's budget-cutting proposal would allow poultry companies to inspect their own chickens and turkeys, leaving a single federal inspector responsible for examining up to 175 birds per second as they speed down the line.
"It exceeds the bounds of logic and common sense to reasonably contend that one person can carefully examine more than 80,000 chickens per workday when the carcasses are whizzing past the inspector at a rate of 3 chickens per second," AFGE Assistant General Counsel Matthew Milledge wrote in the union's official comments.
Contrary to the agency's assertion that these changes would improve food safety, Milledge wrote that the proposal "will ensure that increased numbers of adulterated poultry enter the marketplace thereby endangering the health and safety of the American consumer."
The proposal violates the 1957 federal law that established the current poultry inspections process, which requires federal inspectors to perform a "careful examination" of the carcass of every bird processed to determine its fitness for purchase, Milledge wrote.
Not only will federal inspectors be physically incapable of examining every carcass, the proposal eliminates the current requirement that federal inspectors examine the internal organs, or viscera, of each bird. Many of these parts are sold for human consumption, including chicken livers and giblets.
"Under this new system, poultry parts will be sold to the public that have never been inspected by a federal inspector in violation of federal law," Milledge wrote.
AFGE and other concerned consumer groups have denounced the proposed regulations and organized petition drives and other protests. More than 16,000 people have signed a petition on the White House website urging the Obama administration to withdraw the proposed rule.
AFGE's complete comments, along with a link to the White House petition, are available here.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 625,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.