According to the Washington Post, US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand requested the GAO report. Sen. Gillibrand has been critical of USDA's plan that would allow poultry processing plants to increase line speeds and replace some government inspectors with company employees.
USDA has said the new inspection procedures would improve food safety and save the federal government more than $90 million over three years. The overhaul also would reduce industry's production costs by at least $256 million per year mostly through increased line speeds.
But the GAO report says USDA used information collected from plants more than 11 years ago, and the report criticized the agency for applying the information to turkey plants, according to the Washington Post report.
While industry has applauded the new procedures, the new inspection procedures have been met with protests. A coalition of civil-rights groups filed a formal petition asking the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and USDA to issue new work-speed standards to protect workers at meat and poultry processors.
"Meatpacking and poultry processing line jobs are among the most notoriously dangerous jobs in the United States," the group's petition states. It notes that "OSHA's current failure to regulate poultry and meat processing plant work speed puts plant workers at significant risk of permanently disabling cumulative trauma disorders," such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which are caused by the extraordinary number of repetitive motions these workers perform."
J. Dan McCausland, senior director of worker safety, American Meat Institute, said worker safety is a top priority for meat and poultry companies and that OSHA data shows the industry has a sustained record of improved worker safety over the last 20 years.
"Claims that our industries are ‘notoriously dangerous’ simply can’t be supported by federal data; our worker safety records are consistent with safety records for ‘all manufacturing’, McCausland said in a statement. "USDA regulates line speeds and plants must continuously comply with these regulations," he added. "It’s important to remember that when considering line speeds, one must consider more factors than just speed; one must consider how that line is crewed. A line operating at a particular speed with a crew of three may be moving too quickly, but that speed may be perfectly safe with two additional crew members."