During a House appropriations hearing April 16, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he expected the agency to take action to publish the final rule on modernizing poultry inspection procedures "very soon." However, a spokesperson told Feedstuffs that after two months USDA is still in the process of determining the final rule, and has not even sent it to the Office of Management and Budget for final review.
In its consideration of the 2014 Agriculture and Rural Development Appropriations Bill June 13, the full House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment by voice vote urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to move forward on its proposed rule to modernize poultry inspection.
The proposed rule moves people from quality inspection tasks to more food safety inspection tasks. The new poultry slaughter rule promises to improve food safety while also resulting in a more efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars. The proposed rule would provide for a new inspection system for young chicken and turkey slaughter establishments that would replace the current Streamlined Inspection System, the New Line Speed Inspection System, and the New Turkey Inspection System.
Vilsack testified that it has been 50-60 years since poultry inspection processes have been reviewed and the proposed rule is based on a pilot project in 20 plants. The process allows inspectors to "focus attention and time on areas where we know pathogen risks are the greatest." USDA estimates 3,000 to 5,000 foodborne illnesses can be prevented by utilizing the new system.
The amendment states in part, "The Committee believes that implementation of this system, that has been tested over ten years, will lead to a reduction of pathogens in poultry and a corresponding reduction in foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. The Committee urges the Department to finalize this rule."
National Chicken Council president Mike Brown welcomed the bipartisan support for urging USDA to act. "In an effort to continue our progress towards reducing foodborne illnesses, we believe, and the committee recognizes, that the poultry inspection system should be modernized to transition to a model that is more science and risk-based," Brown said.