Chickens

A controversial proposal that would increase the number of birds processed at chicken plants from 140 to 175 birds per minute, received support from a USDA spokesperson in a recent statement, despite the agency’s failure to meet targeted goals for reducing the outbreak of food borne illnesses.

The new safety inspection procedure aims to save taxpayers $90 million by cutting the number of government poultry inspectors by 800, and speeding the poultry processing lines up by 25 percent. Citing that the increase in birds per inspector would “enhance” safety measures, Food and Safety Inspection Service spokesman Dirk Fillpot said that directing inspector efforts more towards the improvement of food safety would make the nation’s poultry supply less at risk for contamination. The agency reports that the increased birds per minute will be presorted for defects and diseases, decreasing what inspectors have to look for in identifying potential contaminants that contribute to food borne outbreaks like salmonella, listeria and E.coli.  But inspectors won’t even be checking inside chicken chest cavities where contamination risks are common.

The USDA says the new line increases will help to reduce food borne outbreaks. But speeding up processing lines comes with risks not being considered by the USDA, reports the Huffington Post. Processing plant workers reportedly quit because fast running lines operating at less than the proposed increase, were already too fast and dangerous for workers to keep up with. And recent reports released by government agencies suggest that the nation is failing to meet target goals for reducing food borne illness outbreaks—cases of salmonella are still more than double targets set by the Centers for Disease Control.

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Image: Alex E. Proimos