Target: United States Department of Agriculture
Goal: Protest proposed poultry inspection program that would lessen the number of USDA inspectors, speed up processing rates, and increase the use of antimicrobial chemicals
The U.S. meat industry may soon be producing more poultry that contain fewer pathogens. But at what cost? If the White House accepts its new proposal, the USDA could soon reduce the number of federal inspectors at poultry plants by as much as 40%. At the same time, the maximum speed for slaughter would increase from 140 chickens to 175 chickens per minute. Moreover, the new system ‘would allow visibly contaminated poultry carcasses to remain online for treatment.’ Rather than removing carcasses from the slaughter line for cleaning or disposal, they would be treated with chemicals and a water blast. In fact, all carcasses would be doused with these chemicals ‘whether they’re contaminated or not.’ Workers at poultry plants already complain of regular musculoskeletal injuries, and some suspect the increased use of chemicals– peracetic acid, in particular– is causing illness and even death. Increased production rates would put further strain on exhausted workers. Condemn the USDA’s proposal to expand their new poultry plant inspection program.
Following the initiation of an inspection pilot project in 1998, the USDA has introduced this new model of inspection at over 20 poultry plants. Pushed by the White House, the USDA now aims to standardize the program at slaughter plants across the country. Unfortunately, whether or not this would increase efficiency or safety at the plants is still unknown. Despite the inspection program’s 15-year existence, the USDA has so far failed to conduct satisfactory evaluations of the pilot project. The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently published a condemnation of the USDA for basing their proposal to move forward on weak information and limited data.
Worse yet, the government isn’t taking into account workers’ health and safety. Chlorine and peracetic acid are the chemicals most widely used at plants to cleanse and sterilize meat. At very low levels the chemicals aren’t expected to cause harm, but employees have reported rashes, stinging eyes and bronchial problems, sometimes as severe as coughing up blood. Jose Navarro died in 2011 from hemorrhaged lungs and kidney failure after five years at a poultry plant in upstate New York. The plant had been treating the birds with chlorine and peracetic acid at the time of his death. Despite officials’ denying that the chemicals contributed to his death, Navarro’s wife reports how her husband frequently complained of the strong chemicals he came in contact with at work.
Then, of course, there remains the question of how these chemicals in meat might damage human health after consumption.
If the White House signs off on the USDA’s new model of inspection, the U.S. may soon have a disaster on its hands. Demand the USDA refrain from expanding this problem-ridden model of poultry inspection.
Dear U.S. Department of Agriculture
Not only have you failed to adequately demonstrate how the HAACP-based Inspection Model Program (HIMP) increases efficiency at poultry plants, the USDA appears flagrantly unconcerned with human health and safety. Carpal tunnel syndrome, severe muscle cramps, and musculoskeletal injuries are already common fixtures at slaughterhouses. Under HIMP-style inspection of poultry plants, the reduced number of inspectors would have to be made up with an increased use of chemicals to clean meat. These chemicals– chlorine and peracetic acid, principally– are highly corrosive at high concentrations. Their effect at chronic low-levels of concentration is relatively unstudied. Moreover, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration afford poultry plant workers some of the least protection. Increasing the rate of production will lead to an escalation of injuries as well as illness from chemical exposure.
Aside from harm to poultry plant workers, I am also worried about the quality of the meat that will be produced by HIMP plants. 100% pathogen-free chicken is not an improvement if the meat has been contaminated with a slew of chemicals. The ultimate goal of the USDA should be to ensure the highest quality meat made, with the utmost safety of both workers and consumers in mind. The model you propose cannot ensure this. The only conclusion I can reach is that this is a bad program: a program that could harm workers, that might allow for more pathogen-contaminated meat to be missed by inspectors, and that will introduce a greater concentration of chemicals in meat.
Do not approve the HAACP-based Inspection Model Program for expansion to U.S.’ poultry plants. The program has not yet been sufficiently evaluated, and as such the current risks are too high.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: USDAgov via Flickr