Consumer groups and food inspectors represented by the American Federation of Government Employees will join forces Monday in a rally to protest proposed changes to the way poultry is inspected.
The protesters are scheduled to gather outside the Agriculture Department headquarters at Jefferson Drive in Southwest Washington at 11:30 a.m. Monday.
The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has proposed a new inspection system for young chicken and turkey slaughter establishments that is designed to improve the system’s effectiveness. The shift would focus resources on areas of the poultry production system that pose the greatest risk to food safety, relying less on armies of inspectors to eyeball animal carcasses in search of bruising, tumors or visible signs of contamination.
The new rules would reduce the number of inspectors on slaughter lines, and assign more inspectors to focus on testing poultry for pathogens and other high-risk contaminants. Some regulatory requirements the government considers outdated would be removed and replaced with more “flexible and effective testing,” according to the proposed changes.
Opponents, including the unions that represent inspectors, claim the changes would reduce the overall number of inspectors and increase the number of birds each inspector must examine, potentially putting consumers at risk.
Every day, inspectors in white hats and coats take up positions at every one of the nation’s slaughterhouses, eyeballing the hanging carcasses of cows and chickens as they shuttle past on elevated rails, looking for bruises, tumors and signs of contamination.
It’s essentially the way U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety inspectors have done their jobs for a century, ever since Upton Sinclair’s blockbuster novel, “The Jungle,” exposed horrid conditions in a Chicago meatpacking facility and shook Americans awake to the hazards of tainted food.
But these days, the bulk of what Americans eat — seafood, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, shelled eggs and almost everything except meat and poultry — is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. And the FDA inspects the plants it oversees on average about once a decade.
These radically different approaches are a legacy from a time when animal products were thought to be inherently risky and other food products safe. But in the past few years, the high-profile and deadly outbreaks of food-borne illness linked to spinach, peanuts and cantaloupe have put the lie to that assumption.
The FDA’s approach is partly by necessity: The agency lacks the money to marshal more inspectors.
But it also reflects a different philosophy about how to address threats to the nation’s food supply: an approach based on where the risk is greatest.
The agency concentrates its limited inspections on food products that have the worst track record on safety — seafood, for example — and on companies with a history of problems. It puts most of its efforts into responding to outbreaks after the fact, using genetic fingerprinting and other scientific tools to track contaminants back to their source in hopes of stopping any further spread.
THE Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has gone from flagging only vegetables from Spain and Germany to flagging greens from the rest of the European Union (EU).
The widening of its ‘hold-and-test’ requirement comes on the heels of a deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany, thought to be spread through contaminated cucumbers imported from Spain.
The ‘hold-and-test’ procedure refers to the practice of sending suspected items for tests and withholding their sale until they are found to be free of contaminants.
On Sunday, the AVA had said it would place imported leafy vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes from Germany and Spain under hold-and-test, but it has since confirmed that cucumbers from Germany, Spain and Denmark are not brought in here.
Some, however, do come in from the Netherlands; between January and last month, 69kg of cucumbers were imported.
Yesterday, the AVA spokesman said: ‘In view of the recent situation, AVA will place imported leafy vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes from the EU under hold-and-test, should there be such imports.’