Labor group urges USDA to 'trash' poultry rule

A labor group is calling on the Obama administration to "trash" a controversial poultry inspection rule that it says would lead to more contaminated food and pose a greater risk of injury to slaughterhouse workers.

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a rule that would speed up the rate at which chickens and turkeys are processed by as much as 25 percent. It would also cut back on available inspectors — according to Cox, that means remaining inspectors would have to work at unrealistically fast speeds to ensure the safety of poultry.

ADVERTISEMENT
"Let's be clear: This is a filthy rule that will lead to filthy chicken on your dinner plate," Cox wrote in a blog for the Huffington Post. "It's time to put it in the trash where it belongs."

The USDA argues the rule, which also replaces many government inspectors with company inspectors, would increase food safety by allowing the agency to take a proactive approach by focusing more resources on catching pathogens before they infect chickens and turkeys.

But Cox pointed out that studies show this theory is inconclusive. Under the USDA proposal, federal inspectors could be responsible for watching 175 birds every minute, he said.

"Do you think any human can adequately inspect three birds every second to ensure they are free of feathers, feces, lesions, bile and other contaminants?" Cox asked. "I don't."

Cox suggested money may be the motivating factor. "Make no mistake: The chief goal of this proposal is to save money, not to increase safety for consumers or workers," Cox wrote.

The USDA admits that the rule would save the agency an estimated $90 million over three years, while poultry plants would increase profits by more than $250 million a year because of increased line speeds.