Consumer advocates criticize USDA poultry line speed plan |

Consumer advocates criticize USDA poultry line speed plan

The Safe Food Coalition, a group of consumer and public health organizations, today criticized the Agriculture Department's plan for how poultry companies can get waivers to increase processing line speeds, saying the plan would put public health at risk.

Consumer advocates and other members of the public did not have an opportunity to provide input on the criteria, announced last week, "which offer unclear protections for food safety," the groups said.

"Only facilities operating under the 'New Poultry Inspection System' for at least a year are eligible for line speed waivers, but the available data fails to show that that system actually improves food safety outcomes compared to traditional inspection," the coalition said.

"The criteria exclude 'Category 3' facilities that have failed to meet salmonella and campylobacter performance standards, but not borderline 'Category 2' facilities. And while USDA claims that it will revoke the waivers of 'establishments consistently unable to maintain process control at line speeds higher than 140 bpm,' it fails to explain exactly what it means to 'maintain process control.'"

The groups said "the announcement promises 'additional information on this issue in a notice in the Federal Register in the future,' but the agency will apparently begin processing waiver applications immediately."

"USDA alone will determine whether a facility's application meets the criteria," the coalition said. "This process represents a stark contrast from the notice and comment rulemaking that established the underlying line speed restrictions, and raises questions concerning USDA's compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act."

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The statement was released by the Consumer Federation of America on behalf of consumer, public health and victim groups who work on issues related to food, and organizations representing labor in the food industry.

–The Hagstrom Report