USDA Wants Fewer Poultry Inspectors—But More Chemicals

July 2, 2013
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poultryinspectionThey talk of “modernizing” and “streamlining,” but what does this really mean? Action Alert!

It appears to mean that filthy chickens will now be “sanitized” using twice as many dangerous chemicals.

The Obama Administration is proposing the implementation of “new methods in poultry inspection.” Simultaneously, the USDA has proposed new regulations to create just such a system—an expansion of a pilot program that has been running since 1998—which would be nationally implemented this year, with hopes to have it completely in place by 2014.

What are these “new methods” that would “modernize poultry slaughter inspection” and “remove unnecessary regulatory obstacles to innovation?” Fewer inspectors, less oversight, and, to compensate, an increased reliance on “antimicrobial intervention”—generally the use of high levels of chlorine or “antimicrobial agents other than chlorine [that reduce] APC, E. coli, and Salmonella at a level equal to or better than chlorine.”

The overhaul would:

  • Speed up poultry inspection lines, increasing their speed to 140 chickens per minute and between 45 and 55 turkeys per minute;
  • Reduce the number of federal inspectors by 40%, relying more on inspectors whose salaries are paid by the poultry industry; and
  • Allow the increased use of chemicals—whether chickens are contaminated or not—as a catchall for diseased birds that will inevitably escape notice with the increased line speeds. Plants that currently use one or two chemical treatments will now use as many as four.

Typically, poultry is sprayed with water and chemicals inside and out, moved through spray cabinets where they are showered with other chemicals, and are finally chilled and soaked in water containing between 20 and 50 ppm of chlorine. The new proposal would also let chemicals be used on “air-chilled” birds, which currently rely on low temperatures to kill pathogens or at least discourage their spread. The proposal also encourages the use of chemicals along the processing line, not just at the end.

The chemicals used in poultry plants are, of course, poisonous: their job is to kill bacteria, but they are dangerous to humans as well. According to the Washington Post, a federal poultry inspector named Jose Navarro died—his lungs bleeding out—after six years of inspecting plants where these chemicals were used. Another USDA inspector, Sherry Medina, developed a severe respiratory infection one month after the Tyson Foods plant in Alabama where she worked began using peracetic acid. “I would walk into the plant, and I’d start wheezing. It was like I was choking to death. I coughed so hard, I broke two ribs,” said Medina, who now collects disability.

Two dozen USDA inspectors have described reactions such as asthma, severe respiratory problems, burns, rashes, irritated eyes, and sinus problems (including ulcers) to the chemicals being used. Two of the most common chemicals (chlorine and paracetic acid) have been linked to emotional disturbances, damaged internal organs, and even death. We tell USDA workers about the risks to their health from using these chemicals, but we don’t tell the American public a word about the risk of eating chemically treated birds.

The USDA has provided almost zero hard data on what the pilot program has achieved, but according to a private report to the House Appropriations Committee, USDA plants already use accelerated line speeds, and workers are being exposed to larger amounts of “sanitizing” chemicals than ever before. A Freedom of Information request covering the pilot program by Food & Water Watch revealed that employees are failing to catch defects in poultry carcasses. One reason for this is the increased speed of the lines coupled with the reduced number of inspectors. The other is that there is no requirement that non-USDA inspectors receive any training at all.

“The agency claims that the salmonella rates in the pilot project plants are lower than the rates for plants that receive conventional inspection. But given the GAO criticism of the design of the program and the fact that production practices can easily be manipulated during government testing periods, [USDA’s] claims are suspect,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. Moreover, for many of the chemicals used, the government has not conducted any independent research on their safety for consumers who eat the food. As usual, they instead rely on data provided by chemical manufacturers themselves!

Having fewer inspections and using more chemicals is what you get when your only focus is the “bottom line.” The government will save about $90 million over the next three years though staff reductions, and poultry plants will increase their bottom line by $260 million per year. With less oversight and faster inspection lines, they can process more poultry in a shorter period of time.

The irony is, while USDA wants to save money on poultry plants, they want to spend money on horse plants! Horse slaughter was effectively banned in 2006 when Congress said USDA couldn’t spend any money on horse slaughterhouse inspections, but that prohibition expired in 2011. Last week the USDA gave its approval for a new horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico, with similar plants seeking approval in Missouri and Iowa. Horsemeat cannot be sold as food for humans in the US—but it can be exported. And, as Mike Adams noted, it may well turn up in the US food supply anyway because it can be sold to Mexico for human consumption, then re-labeled and shipped back into the USA for use as a low-cost meat filler.

The government and the poultry industry is once again ignoring what real food safety is: local, sustainable animals fed a natural, organic diet and treated humanely—the fundamental principles of biodynamics—not ever more industrialized, mechanized, and chemicalized! Food from CAFOs is neither safe nor nutritious.

Action Alert! Tell USDA and President Obama not to finalize these new “modernized” and “streamlined” regulations. Explain that it is the overcrowding and inhumane treatment of animals that result in the filth and disease that the chemicals are supposed to treat, and using even more toxic chemicals on our food is not the answer. Tell them the rules should instead emphasize the need for a reconsideration of confined animal feeding operations, slower processing line speeds, cleaner facilities, more inspections, and better-trained employees.

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15 Responses to “USDA Wants Fewer Poultry Inspectors—But More Chemicals”

  1. Carole says:

    The unfortunate truth is that most of the public just wants bigger, cheaper chicken.They don’t care about health risks. I guess as long as they can get what they want, and we can still get the healthy food that we want – everyone will be happy. Hate to sound cynical, but….

    I am concerned about the fact that the workers are developing such health problems. I would imagine its from dealing with the high concentration of chemicals all day, every day. Something needs to be done to make their working conditions safer.

       1 likes

    • John Brack says:

      Is it true that everyone wants to have cheaper food on the market?
      I guess the bottom line is that food should be valued more against unnecessary goods like electronic gadgets etc.
      This would allow the producers to have a honest income, the consumer to have healthy food, and the food production to be more sustainable.
      The withdrawal of USDA from regulative processes does not only occur in poultry slaughterhouses, it seems to be a systemic program in all areas USDA is involved. While the self-regulation system, leaving control tot the producers, is considered as a failure in Europe, the US policies seems to encourage this system in an effort to reduce expenses.
      I am convinced the government could save money in many sectors that are less sensitive than food production.

         0 likes

  2. Herman DeHoog says:

    Once again it is too clear that the FDA and USDA are far too beholden to, infested with, and dependent on big money corporations and their insane ideas and tactics. It is critical that individual people take responsibility for what they eat, but unless folks are informed it’s impossible. Pure, unmodified foods are essential to the health of both animals and people. With all the fuss about chemicals and GMO products, these issues cannot be hidden from food industry chieftans, can it? Makes you wonder what they eat and feed their families…they can’t eat the money they make, can they?

       1 likes

  3. Joyce says:

    I would also like to add that Jan mentioned gmo vegetables, but we are finding out that most of the food we eat, including fruit, nuts, grains, etc. are genetically modified. Most of the food, if not all of the food on your grocery shelves is genetically modified or has some element of poisonous, non-food substance in them. We keep trying to fight the wrong things instead of getting to the core of the problem. Even when companies advertise that something is good for you, don’t believe the hype without checking the ingredients OR how they processed the food. All of our meats are under attack so that many other countries don’t want to buy from the USA.

       1 likes

  4. Kay Lang says:

    It is not about feeding the masses. It is not about what our government wants. It is about big corporations making greater profits faster without having to be concerned about law suits. To stop this, Americans have to become informed, get involved, and take action. Monsanto would like for us to believe that they are genetically modifying our food and taking control of it so that they can feed the masses. After an international protest against them a few weeks ago, they announced that they will not do business in Western Europe. Europeans seem to be more involved and more in touch with their government.

       7 likes

    • Joyce says:

      Kay,

      I agree with you whole-heartedly. And this is not the half of it. I don’t know if you saw the documentary “Food Inc.” but it sounds like you did. I urge others to speak up please! Contact your lawmakers, senators, congresspeople, etc. and ask them to do something about the lack of proper regulations regarding the chemicals, additives, hormones, animal byproducts, and manipulation of our food industry.
      It is better to buy organic, non-gmo, truly natural foods, even though they cost more initially, than to pay doctors in the end to prescribe medicines that do more harm than good.

         2 likes

  5. hank hudson says:

    Our popular grocery store offers a “Green line” of meats — no antibiotics, no additives and organic
    feeding and from now on that’s all I’ll buy — the cost is not much more and I’ll get much less chemicals in my meats. Worth the cost for safety.

       1 likes

  6. Vernon Kelsey says:

    Protecting the consumer should be the focus here also the people who work in these plants . Use good common sense by starting at the bottom of the process when the chicks are first hatched to the final slaughter of the chicken thru the rest of the process.

       0 likes

  7. Jack Marsden says:

    ENOUGH!

       0 likes

  8. Lorraine Marie says:

    I was thinking of giving up totally on chicken. Now I will.

       0 likes

  9. lynette dumont says:

    It’s all about feeding the masses. How or what they’re fed, who cares. There are too many of them out there and they need to be weeded out. Right?

       1 likes

  10. Jan says:

    This is disgusting. I only buy organic chicken and this is why. Our food is loaded with so much that is poison to us and the government approves it. Chemically treated meat and poultry and GMO vegetables should be banned, but Congress gets too much money from these factions. Too bad the people do not have someone standing for us in all this. But it is business as usual.

       2 likes

  11. Gerald Alexander says:

    The government and the poultry industry is once again ignoring what real food safety is: local, sustainable animals fed a natural, organic diet and treated humanely—the fundamental principles of biodynamics—not ever more industrialized, mechanized, and chemicalized! Food from CAFOs is neither safe nor nutritious

       0 likes

  12. Betty Chan says:

    Tell USDA and President Obama not to finalize these new “modernized” and “streamlined” regulations. Explain that it is the overcrowding and inhumane treatment of animals that result in the filth and disease that the chemicals are supposed to treat, and using even more toxic chemicals on our food is not the answer. Tell them the rules should instead emphasize the need for a reconsideration of confined animal feeding operations, slower processing line speeds, cleaner facilities, more inspections, and better-trained employees.

       0 likes

    • Big Ag companies take care of their own. From the Ag Gag laws at meat processing facilities to the horse slaughter facilities, to the massive chicken and, pork producers……all in it for the money.
      How many of these products are really that good for you? Start thinking local farmers and organic meats as well as organic free range protein producers.

         0 likes

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