No matter which of the alphabet soup of government agencies the poultry industry is dealing with, EPA, USDA FSIS, or OSHA, the message seems to be the same, cooperation is out and enforcement is in. Articles and columns in this issue emphasize that the Obama administration and the current Congress are working overtime to adopt more legislation and regulations and to put more of the focus of agencies like FSIS and OSHA on enforcement. It is unfortunate that programs like OSHA’s Voluntary Protective Program (VPP) will receive less emphasis and instead, the agency will focus its bigger budget on inspection and enforcement.
Everyone in the poultry industry wants the food they eat to be safe and wholesome, the air we breathe and water we drink to be clean, and the place that we work to be safe. Each and every one of us wants to be able to go home safely from our jobs at the end of the day, and we also wish this for all of our coworkers and employees. In spite of this, there will be some bad actors in every industry, and that’s why we have regulatory agencies.
I recognize that a portion of the job of these regulatory agencies is to be on the look out for companies that are skirting the rules and are not protecting the environment, public health or their workers’ safety. But, the majority of firms are trying to do the right things and regulatory agencies can help to play a role improving performance at these firms, not just policing the bad actors.
Two poultry companies that are heavily engaged in the VPP program, Butterball LLC and Cargill, Inc., were featured in the March WATT PoultryUSA. The development of these two turkey companies’ safety programs was certainly aided by participation in VPP. Increasing emphasis on enforcement may help OSHA find the small percentage of companies in an industry that are true bad actors, but my guess is that it won’t improve safety in the majority of the industry that is already trying to do the right thing.
Programs like VPP leverage a small amount of government funding and manpower to achieve big results by enlisting the expertise of other VPP participants to do auditing of plants that are trying to attain VPP status. These volunteer auditors, in addition to helping out the facilities that they audit, pickup ideas on these audits that they can bring back and use in their own facilities. Work places are made safer, workman’s compensation costs go down, employees are healthier and no one pays a fine or gets threatened with a jail term.
In my experience, the carrot gets a lot more results than does the stick. At some point, the mule starts thinking he is going to get hit whether he moves or not, so why not just stand there and see what happens. People behave a lot more like mules than some regulators think.
So why is there all of this the saber rattling coming out of Washington and provocative statements about there being a “new sheriff in town?” I realize that the new administration and the Democrat majority in Congress have constituencies that they need to placate, but does anyone believe that tough rhetoric is going to improve anything? Fear of inspection and possible fines don’t drive continuous improvement.
The U.S. poultry industry will continue to change, innovate and improve, with or without the help of regulatory agencies. Cooperative efforts to improve worker safety and food safety will continue within the industry’s trade associations. Rhetoric aside, progress will be swifter if government agencies continue to engage industry in a cooperative manner.
This is my last column for WATT PoultryUSA. I have enjoyed having the opportunity over the last nine years to bring you stories about the people, technologies and companies that have made the U.S. broiler and turkey industries the envy of the rest of the world. I trust that the growing regulatory burden in this country will not be the beginning of the end of the industry’s long-running success story.