WASHINGTON – More than 100 groups representing labor, animal welfare and food safety interests among others submitted a letter and more than 200,000 petitions against the US Department of Agriculture's HACCP-based Inspection Models Program (HIMP). 

HIMP is a pilot program that started in 1999, and 20 broiler production plants have been participating in the program. Under HIMP, company employees in most chicken and turkey slaughter plants would have the responsibility for checking eviscerated carcasses for visual defects such as bruising and sorting out those that are unlikely to pass federal inspection. A single federal inspector would be stationed at the end of the line, just before the chill tank, to conduct a final visual inspection. USDA has said the changes to inspection will reduce the risk of foodborne illness by allowing Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel to focus on testing and other activities related to foodborne illness prevention.

However, opponents of HIMP argue that the plan is an attempt to privatize poultry inspection and put consumers' health at risk. In their letter to Obama, the groups took issue with the plan to cut 40 percent of USDA inspectors from processing lines and replace them with workers employed by the poultry companies. Another provision allows the 20 plants in the HIMP pilot program to raise line speeds up to 175 birds per minute. The groups said increased line speeds could lead to an increase in repetitive stress injuries.