USDA sued over poultry rule

Food & Water Watch says new poultry inspection rule violates Poultry Products Inspection Act.

The group Food & Water Watch filed suit in federal court to stop the implementation of the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) rules.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) amended its new inspection rule to remove a change that would allow poultry processing plants to increase their line speeds to run as high as 140 birds per minute.  However, the final rule will allow the 20 chicken plants operating in USDA’s modernized poultry inspection pilot program to continue using higher line speeds.  Another provision of the final rule that consumer advocates dislike is the ability to shift FSIS inspectors from production-floor duties to conduct more offline inspection activities, such as microbial testing, allowing employees of the facility to take their place in handling floor inspections.

In its suit, Food & Water Watch charges the new system violates the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), a law passed in 1957 that gives USDA the authority to protect consumer health and welfare by assuring that poultry products are wholesome, not adulterated, and properly marked, labeled and packaged. The organization alleges that NPIS violates a number of statutory requirements, including the PPIA’s prescription that federal government inspectors, and not poultry slaughter establishment staff, are responsible for condemning adulterated young chicken and turkey carcasses. The suit states that the NPIS rules also violate the PPIA’s requirement that federal inspectors supervise slaughter establishment reprocessing, which is done to avoid the condemnation of adulterated birds (essentially removing problematic chicken parts to allow the rest of the bird to pass inspection.)

The suit is being brought by Food & Water Watch, on behalf of itself and its members, who include the two other individual plaintiffs, Margaret Sowerwine and Jane Foran. Defendants are Secretary Vilsack and other officials from the USDA and its Food Safety and Inspection Service. The suit states that consumers will be hurt by NPIS, and notes objection with the process by which the rule was implemented. For example, there was no opportunity for oral comments at a public meeting. The group charges that there were also elements that changed in the final rule that were not even hinted at in the proposed rule for public review.

Under the new system, company employees will be charged with removing adulterated product from slaughter lines at their own discretion. The new rules do not mandate training for these company inspectors; whereas USDA inspectors undergo extensive training to allow them to fulfill these tasks under the current inspection system.

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