Food & Water Watch has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the federal government from implementing the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) rules. The group alleges the new poultry inspection rules would turn over key food safety inspection functions to poultry companies and would limit oversight by USDA inspectors.

The new rule is slated to become effective October 20. It requires poultry companies to take measures to prevent Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination, rather than addressing contamination after it occurs. It also requires for the first time that all poultry facilities perform their own microbiological testing at two points in their production process to show they are controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter. These requirements are in addition to testing from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). FSIS estimates that the new rule, when enforced, will prevent up to 5,000 foodborne illnesses each year.

However, Food & Water Watch has filed the suit because it believes the new poultry inspection rule will not protect the consumers.

Advertisement

“These rules essentially privatize poultry inspection, and pave the way for others in the meat industry to police themselves,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The USDA’s decision to embrace the scheme — an initiative lobbied for by the meat industry for more than a decade — flies in the face of the agency’s mandate to protect consumers. What’s more, we believe it’s illegal.”

In its lawsuit, Food & Water Watch claims the new inspection system violates the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), a law passed in 1957 that gives USDA the authority to protect consumer health and welfare by assuring that poultry products are wholesome, not adulterated, and properly marked, labeled and packaged. The organization alleges that NPIS violates a number of statutory requirements, including the PPIA’s prescription that federal government inspectors, and not poultry slaughter establishment staff, are responsible for condemning adulterated young chicken and turkey carcasses. The suit states that the NPIS rules also violate the PPIA’s requirement that federal inspectors supervise slaughter establishment reprocessing, which is done to avoid the condemnation of adulterated birds.

The suit is being brought by Food & Water Watch, on behalf of itself and its members, and includes two other individual plaintiffs: Margaret Sowerwine and Jane Foran. Defendants include U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other officials from USDA and FSIS.