This blog is written by Erin Bzymek, Press Secretary for the BlueGreen Alliance.
There are few meals as typically American as the chicken dinner. In 2009, Americans averaged eating 56 pounds of chicken per year. Unfortunately, there is a new rule proposed by the United States Department of Agriculture that we all should know about.
The USDA is proposing to “modernize” poultry inspection in poultry plants, which are already among some of the most hazardous workplaces. The USDA’s proposed rule has nothing to do with modernization, what it does is it would take federal inspectors out of poultry factories, placing the onus on poultry companies to bear all of the responsibility ensuring their products. Under the new rule, poultry factories would be able to speed up inspection assembly lines — where workers inspect birds for fecal matter and other defects — from 140 birds per minute, up to 200 birds per minute. The government would save a mere $39 million annually — a disconcertingly small amount given the high toll recalls and unsafe meat on supermarket shelves would on the economy and public health.
Food author Michael Pollan drew the bottom line in saying, “We all like cheap food. But when we’re spending billions to deal with a salmonella outbreak, it isn’t really as cheap as it seems.”
If the threat to the edibility of one of the most prominent proteins on America’s dinner plate isn’t enough to alarm you, then the threat to the workers in these factories should be.
The USDA’s proposed rule fails to take into concern the health and safety of the roughly 200,000 poultry plant line workers nationwide, many speak little English, do not benefit from union representation, and who often have few professional options open to them. These workers are in particular need of strong enforceable federal health and safety regulations to protect them and ensure a safe food supply. Neither does the rule take into account the environmental impacts associated with the greater waste that would be generated by processing more chickens in the same amount of time.
Any way you look at it, the cost/benefit analysis of this anti-regulatory proposal doesn’t add up. USDA should abandon this rule in order to properly protect workers and consumers.
You can comment on this proposed rule here.