Poultry modernization legislation moves ahead

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON -- Its proposed rule to modernize the US poultry inspection system has been sent by the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service to the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. The US poultry industry has reacted favorably to this move.

"I commend USDA for taking the next step in an effort to modernize the way the agency inspects chicken," said Mike Brown, NCC president. "In an effort to continue our progress towards reducing foodborne illnesses, we believe, along with food safety experts, that the poultry inspection system should be modernized and transitioned to a model that is more science and risk-based. Not only will this system build on our food safety progress, if fully implemented, it will create jobs."We look forward to reviewing the final rule in its entirety once it is published in the Federal Register. After a successful 15-year pilot program, I urge OIRA to perform an expeditious review."

Meanwhile, Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation, said the turkey industry is committed to working with the USDA to implement logical steps in modernizing the US food-safety inspection system to ensure it remains the world’s best.

“Because draft documents under review are considered deliberative and not available for public release, NTF has not seen the final rule, but did submit comments in support of the proposed rule,” he added. “That draft detailed a modern, sensible approach that will allow food safety inspectors to focus more closely on public health. Further, it described a revamped inspection system that would allow federal inspectors to shift to prevention-oriented inspection systems and redeploy resources in a manner that better protects the public from foodborne diseases.

The turkey industry strives to ensure that consumers continue to enjoy turkey products with full confidence in its safety, he continued. “These actions, together with scientifically-based regulatory actions will affect positive results in the regulated poultry establishments. NTF urges the Office of Budget and Management to provide a high priority review for this important regulation,” he concluded.

FSIS estimated that if implemented, this modernized system would prevent more than 5,200 foodborne illnesses every year. OIRA's review of the rule is the last step before the rule becomes final and published in the Federal Register. The rule was proposed in Jan. 27, 2012, and the comment period closed May 29, 2012.
In other news, the National Chicken Council has launched a new, informative website – www.ChickenInspectionFacts.com – which was designed for consumers and the media to help them better understand both the traditional and modernized inspection processes. Featured in the website are a video of a chicken processing line; video testimonials from food safety, veterinary and poultry processing experts; a Myths & Facts section; a timeline; and several infographics and diagrams.

"In an attempt to save a few federal union jobs that have proven unnecessary over the past 15 years, the inspectors union and their allies have spread many misconceptions about this inspection system and chicken processing in general," Brown charged. "We hope this new website will serve as both an educational tool and resource. After learning the facts, I'm sure taxpayers want their hard earned tax dollars going towards federal inspectors performing tasks like testing for Salmonella, instead of cutting broken wings off of chicken carcasses."

Last December, a bipartisan group of 13 U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to move forward with the proposal.

About the modernized system
Under the proposed rule, USDA remains in its oversight role and USDA inspectors will still be in every poultry plant, looking at each chicken to ensure the safety of chicken products and providing them with the USDA seal of approval for wholesomeness.

The voluntary change would allow trained plant employees to check carcasses for defects and perform other quality-assurance tasks not related to food safety. That would free up some federal inspectors to focus more on food safety-related tasks, such as oversight and verification, microbiological testing for pathogens like Salmonella, sanitation standards and antimicrobial controls in the plant.

This system has been in place as a pilot in 20 chicken plants for the past 15 years, and has proven tremendously successful at improving food safety and protecting workers.
The new system, as proposed, would be voluntary for chicken processors.
For more information, visit: www.ChickenInspectionFacts.com.
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