Poultry inspection union asks for review of new rule

USDA has said "significant changes" have been made to poultry inspection rule and union group wants to comment on the rule before it goes into effect.

The American Federation of Government Employees, largest federal employee union, says the public should be allowed to review and comment on a U.S Department of Agriculture plan to modernize the poultry inspection system before the rule takes effect.

USDA submitted a revised version of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget on July 10, seeking final review and approval. USDA officials have stated that "significant changes" have been made to the original proposed rule, which has been strongly criticized by AFGE and other labor and consumer groups, members of Congress, and other federal agencies. 

Industry groups welcomed the advancement as the rule has been stalled for over two years. Meanwhile, consumer groups and AFGE remain opposed to the proposed changes and say it privatizes poultry inspection.

Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) review of the rule is the last step before the rule becomes final and published in the Federal Register. The rule was proposed in January 27, 2012, and the comment period closed May 29, 2012.

AFGE sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Howard Shelanski, administrator of OIRA, urging a full public review of the rule before it is finalized. Specifically, AFGE is calling on the agencies to publish the revised version of the proposed rule, open it up for a 120-day public comment period, and hold public meetings on the revised proposed rule.

"Considering the importance of this rule, stakeholders and the public should be given the opportunity to comment on the 'significant changes' made to the proposed rule before it is finalized," AFGE legislative and political director Beth Moten wrote.

The USDA plan, which was first proposed in January 2012, would remove most federal inspectors from the slaughter line and turn over inspection activities currently performed by federal inspectors to employees hired by the poultry processing plants. The proposal also would allow plants to increase their line speeds up to 175 chicken carcasses per minute.

"The USDA's original plan has been roundly criticized as a blatant attempt to cut costs without regard to the serious ramifications on the health and safety of consumers and plant workers," AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. "The public has a right to see what changes USDA has made to its cost-cutting plan and be able to respond to the revised plan before any action is taken."

The chief goal of the USDA's plan has been to save money, not to increase safety for consumers or workers, said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr.. The plan as originally proposed would save USDA about $90 million over three years, while poultry plants would reap more than $250 million a year in profits from increasing line speeds, according to the agency's own documents.

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