WASHINGTON – Food & Water Watch is taking the US Dept. of Agriculture to court for failing to release the names of companies seeking to join the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).

“Today we’re calling on USDA and FSIS to release the names of poultry slaughter plants planning to enter the NPIS program,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. “As USDA moves to expand privatized inspection to hog slaughter at the urging of Pew and Cargill, it’s more important than ever that the agency lift the shroud of secrecy around NPIS. Consumers deserve to know if the meat they’re serving their families is mostly inspected by the companies themselves. If these facilities are really more effective at ensuring that food doesn’t contain deadly contaminants, then what is USDA and FSIS hiding?”

Under NPIS rules, poultry companies must meet new requirements to prevent Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination, rather than addressing contamination after it occurs. Additionally, all poultry facilities must perform their own microbiological testing at two points in their production process to show that Salmonella and Campylobacter is under control. These requirements are in addition to testing by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). An optional NPIS enables poultry companies to sort their own products for defects before presenting it to FSIS for inspection. USDA said the system will allow FSIS inspectors to more frequently remove birds from the evisceration line for close examinations, take samples for testing, check plant sanitation, verify compliance with food safety plans and observe live birds for signs of disease or mishandling.

In September 2014, Food & Water Watch sued USDA to stop implementation of the NPIS on concerns, among others, that the new system violates the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) provision that federal government inspectors, and not poultry slaughter establishment staff, are responsible for condemning adulterated young chicken and turkey carcasses. A federal court judge dismissed the lawsuit in February 2015.

Food & Water Watch wants to evaluate the effectiveness of the NPIS, but can’t do so without knowing which companies are seeking to join the new system, the organization argued. “If USDA wants to claim that NPIS is on track to prevent thousands of cases of foodborne illness a year, as it estimated in 2014, it should easily be able provide such an evaluation,” Hauter said. “But the agency won’t even tell us which plants plan to join the program.”