Poultry rule sent to OMB for final review

Industry groups welcomed the advancement while consumer groups remain opposed to the proposed changes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has sent its proposed rule to modernize the U.S. poultry inspection system to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review.


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


OIRA’s 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.


“I commend USDA for taking the next step in an effort to modernize the way the agency inspects chicken,” said National Chicken Council president Mike Brown. “In an effort to continue our progress towards reducing foodborne illnesses, we believe, along with food safety experts, that the poultry inspection system should be modernized and transitioned to a model that is more science and risk-based. Not only will this system build on our food safety progress, if fully implemented, it will create jobs.


“We look forward to reviewing the final rule in its entirety. After a successful 15-year pilot program, I urge OIRA to perform an expeditious review.”


In its risk assessment accompanying the proposed rule, FSIS estimated that if implemented, this modernized system would prevent more than 5,200 foodborne illnesses every year.


Joel Brandenberger, National Turkey Federation president said NTF was pleased to see the rule submitted for final review. Because draft documents under review are considered deliberative and not available for public release, NTF has not seen the final rule, but did submit comments in support of the proposed rule.


Brandenberger noted that draft detailed a modern, sensible approach that will allow food safety inspectors to focus more closely on public health. Further, it described a revamped inspection system that would allow federal inspectors to shift to prevention-oriented inspection systems and redeploy resources in a manner that better protects the public from foodborne diseases.


The voluntary change would allow trained plant employees to check carcasses for defects and perform other quality-assurance tasks not related to food safety. That would free up some federal inspectors to focus more on food safety-related tasks, such as oversight and verification, microbiological testing for pathogens like Salmonella, sanitation standards and antimicrobial controls in the plant.


NCC launched a new, informative website – www.ChickenInspectionFacts.com – designed for consumers and the media to help them better understand both the traditional and modernized inspections process.


“In an attempt to save a few federal union jobs that have proven unnecessary over the past 15 years, the inspectors union and their allies have spread many misconceptions about this inspection system and chicken processing in general,” said Brown. “We hope this new website will serve as both an educational tool and resource. After learning the facts, I’m sure taxpayers want their hard earned tax dollars going towards federal inspectors performing tasks like testing for Salmonella, instead of cutting broken wings off of chicken carcasses.”


Food & Water Watch warned the rule “serves up a huge gift of deregulation to the meat industry.” The rule received over 175,000 public comments which Food &Water Watch said were “overwhelmingly opposed” to the rule.


Since USDA officials have stated that the proposed rule has been significantly changed, Food & Water Watch is calling on the Obama Administration to publish the revised rule now and open it up for public comment for 120 days and hold public meetings during that comment period – something the USDA refused to do when the rule was first proposed.


“USDA can’t be allowed to rush this rule through without thorough consideration,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

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