USDA fights back, refutes critics of poultry inspector change

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2012 -The Food Safety and Inspection Service is taking its defense right to the heart of new media, disputing critics who say food safety will be compromised by a proposed modernization of its poultry inspection system. Writing on the popular Huffington Post news and opinion web site, FSIS Administrator Alfred Almanza says the changes will help prevent food-borne illnesses.

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“Myths about our proposal are being touted by people who are not experts on the subject,” he argues. The January proposal, by focusing inspectors' attention on potential microbial threats rather than cosmetic “bumps and blemishes” will help prevent some 5,200 illnesses, he adds.

“Today, we inspect poultry much the same way as we have since the Eisenhower administration, evaluating the quality of each carcass and doing industry's quality assurance work for them,” says Almanza, who began as an FSIS inspector in 1978.

His article appears designed to rebut charges by the Government Accountability Project, supported by some individual but unnamed FSIS poultry inspectors, that the proposal would allow “corporate ‘self-policing' of the poultry industry.” Instead of line speeds that allow each inspector to see some 30-36 birds per minute, GAP claims the proposal would allow line speeds of up to 200 birds per minute with only one inspector in charge.

“It is not an honest debate when some people are saying that line speeds are going from 35 (bpm) to 175,” Almanza contends. More than a decade of experience under a pilot program at 20 slaughter plants that allows up to 175 birds per minute, he says, has generated data making clear that poultry has lower rates of Salmonella and maintain superior performance on removing visual and quality defects. “Those are the facts, based on the data,” he says.

“Some in the debate have said that we are turning over inspection to the industry to determine what is safe for consumers,” he adds. “Nothing could be more misleading or incorrect. USDA inspectors will be in every plant, ensuring the safety of these products, and the proportion of them doing critical food safety related tasks will actually increase.”


Original story printed in April 18th, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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