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Food Safety and Processing Perspective

Terrence O’Keefe, WATT’s content director, provides his perspective on everything from animal agriculture trends that impact our food chain to food-safety related issues affecting chicken and egg production. O’Keefe has covered the poultry industry as an editor for more than a decade and also brings his experience in plant management and poultry production to comment on today’s issues.
Poultry Processing & Slaughter / Broilers & Layers

U.S. activists don’t want European style poultry inspection?

July 11, 2014

Is it just me or does it seem to you that every bad idea that U.S. activist non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have -- whether they are interested in the environment, animal rights, or so-called consumer issues, etc. -- is merely an extension of something that has already taken hold in Europe? Everything from regulating carbon dioxide emissions, attempts to ban the use of cages to house laying hens, and efforts to ban the use of genetically modified crops started across the pond and ultimately made their way to the U.S. It seems that everything European activist groups clamor for, U.S. activists also covet, but modernization of the poultry inspection system seems to be the exception.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) sent its proposed rule to modernize the U.S. poultry inspection system to the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review on July 10, 2014. U.S. advocacy organizations for labor, animal rights, immigrant issues and food safety/consumer rights are not happy, even though the proposed rule called for a much more “European” style of inspection than the U.S. has had in past.

The USDA and the U.S. poultry industry have been operating 20 broiler and turkey plants in the U.S. in the Hazard Inspection Models Project (HIMP) for 15 years. The proposed rule allows the rest of the country’s poultry plants to opt to move to a HIMP-like system where the responsibility for primary sorting of carcasses on the slaughter line would be assumed by company employees, but final inspection would still be performed by a USDA employee. The proposed rule also would allow for somewhat increased line speeds during times when the slaughter and evisceration process is operating in a manner where very few carcass defects and no contamination makes it through the process to the USDA inspector.

Activist groups treat the changes called for in the proposed rule as radical steps, even though the HIMP experience in U.S. plants has shown them to improve food safety measurements of carcasses prior to chilling. Believe it or not, I think the U.S. activist groups ought to fall back to their standard position that we just have to be more like Europe.

Poultry inspection in slaughter plants in Western Europe has been radically different than in the U.S. for a long time. More than 10 years ago, I visited plants that operated without online government inspectors and used vision systems followed by company employees to do the carcass sorting. The high-speed broiler evisceration lines were run at the maximum speeds that they were designed for: 175 birds per minute. Carcass quality was good, workers were not overwhelmed, and the plants were staffed for the expected line speeds, just as they are in the U.S at current HIMP plants.

I never thought I would see the day, but now I am asking the activist groups, “Why can’t we just be more like Europe?”

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