WASHINGTON – A coalition of consumer advocates and federal food inspectors represented by the American Federation of Government Employees will deliver more than 150,000 petitions to the US Department of Agriculture opposing proposed changes to the poultry inspections process.

The groups plan to deliver the petitions on April 20. The petitions were circulated by numerous groups in opposition to a proposed regulation that would give to company employees in most chicken and turkey slaughter plants 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.

Alfred Almanza, Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator, defended the plan in a blog entry, saying that the inspection proposal is a science-based approach to preventing contamination as opposed to regulation enforcement as a means to reducing foodborne illnesses

“The poultry modernization proposal will help prevent an estimated 5,200 illnesses,” he wrote, by turning the focus of inspectors not on the visual identification of bumps and blemishes on carcasses, but instead on the aspects of “what matters,” which are the threats posed by Salmonella and Campylobacter.

However, activists have opposed the plan as an attempt to privatize the federal government’s responsibility for food safety and increase the number of birds federal inspectors must examine while reducing the number of inspectors. The plan would create a dangerous situation in which contaminated birds could enter the food supply, activists argue.

"Budget cuts are driving the USDA to take this drastic step, which would reduce our highly trained teams of federal food safety inspectors to a skeleton crew who would have to review three birds every second – a humanly impossible task," said John Gage, AFGE national president. "This is a recipe for putting diseased chickens right on our kitchen tables, and we are urging the USDA to reconsider this foolish and dangerous proposal.”