The National Chicken Council today released the following statement in response to an ABC News Report on the proposed poultry inspection system.
Attribute to Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., National Chicken Council vice president of science and technology:
The proposed inspection system will better protect the public from foodborne illnesses by reducing reliance on old-fashioned visual and sensory inspection and moving to prevention-oriented inspection systems based on actual risk to consumers. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the General Accounting Office and by USDA have established the need to modernize the poultry inspection program and this proposed rule does that.
USDA has been exploring the modernization of its poultry inspection system for two decades. A pilot program running in 20 chicken plants since 1999 has been studied, debated and reviewed in depth to assure its effectiveness. Disagreement about the allocation of resources in this area and others has been a long-running battle between the department and the inspectors union, and this rule has gotten caught in the crossfire.
Here are the facts:
USDA will remain in its oversight role and USDA inspectors will still be in every plant, looking at each carcass to ensure the safety of chicken products and providing them with the USDA seal of approval for wholesomeness.
Some USDA inspectors will be repositioned on inspection lines to play a greater role in the prevention of foodborne pathogens on chicken carcasses. These efforts will help better ensure that the vigorous testing and other protocols that companies have in place are working properly to prevent bacterial contamination.
Chicken plants use a variety of measures to protect food from unintentional contamination and to reduce bacteria levels at critical control points during the entire processing process. Bleach, however, is not used on chickens or chicken products at any point during production. When a product moves through the plant, bacteria levels are reduced many hundreds of times to a fraction of what was naturally on the bird when it arrived. Claims that plants alter procedures during testing are patently false.
It is the goal and primary focus of the chicken industry and USDA alike to provide consumers with safe, high quality and wholesome chicken. This proposed rule does not change that goal.
The National Chicken Council will be providing detailed comments to USDA regarding the proposed rule, outlining concerns and seeking clarification in some areas.