UDSA and HHS Disagree over Poultry Rules

Posted April 14, 2014

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) disagree over recent changes to poultry inspection procedures, according to an article by The Hill available here.

USDA’s proposed rule aims to implement new poultry inspection standards that would speed up production and lessen regulatory oversight, but critics say the rule would compromise worker protection and food safety. 

HHS criticized USDA for “misleading” the public about its research at a poultry plant which was part of the pilot program to test the proposed rule.  The director of the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH), John Howard, wrote a letter expressing the department’s concerns.  The letter is available here.

NIOSH reviewed the poultry plant in South Carolina, where USDA tested the new rule and issued a report in March.  The report concluded that 42 percent of workers had evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome and 41 percent or workers worked in jobs involving “hand activity and force above the recommended limits for activity and force.”

USDA, however, points out that NIOSH did not find an increase in the rate of carpal tunnel syndrome over the 10 month study.  USDA’s blog post is available here.  “NIOSH found that working conditions, injury rates, and the number of birds processed per employee did not change between the baseline and the follow-up evaluations,” UDSA wrote.  “It also made several recommendations to improve worker safety at this facility, but slowing the evisceration line speed was not among them.”

NIOSH said that USDA misinterpreted the results, responding, “The truth of the matter is that the HHE Report draws no such conclusion.”

Agri-Pulse reports that USDA intends to finalize the proposed rule by the end of the year.  The rule would allow poultry plants to increase their line speeds up to 175 carcasses per minute with a single inspector on the line. 

For more information on food safety and labor, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here and here.