AMES, Iowa, May 1, 2012 - Consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch and the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Local Unions led a rally outside Democratic Congressional Candidate Christie Vilsack's campaign headquarters today to demand that she stands up for food safety and oppose the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposed privatized poultry inspection program.
In response to the event, Vilsack released a statement voicing her concern with the proposal: "…we should not privatize jobs. There are inherent concerns with allowing companies to inspect themselves, especially with an increase in line speeds that could make inspection more difficult and raise safety issues." The full statement can be read here.
The proposal to replace 800 independent, trained USDA inspectors over three years with company employees who do not have to be trained, and increase line speeds at poultry slaughter facilities as fast as 3 birds per second, has received widespread public criticism and national media attention, including an April 18th ABC World News investigation, that led the USDA to extend the public comment period until May 26.
"The voters who will determine whether or not Christie Vilsack gets elected deserve to know what her position is on this proposal that could put public health and worker safety at risk," said Matt Ohloff, Iowa organizer for Food & Water Watch. "We are calling on candidate Christie Vilsack to oppose this rule and demand that it be withdrawn."
The USDA has been conducting a pilot project of the proposed model in two-dozen poultry facilities for the past 14 years. Food & Water Watch analyzed 5,000 pages of government data, which showed that company employees miss many of the food safety and wholesomeness defects on slaughtered birds. Additionally, government data shows that levels of salmonella in the pilot project plants are higher than in comparable plants not participating in the pilot. In 2002, when USDA decided to proceed with a continuation of the pilot project, Senator Tom Harkin wrote that the project "makes no sense" and "is a recipe for a food safety disaster."
"This proposal is a giant leap backwards for protecting the food supply," said Trent Berhow, Vice Chair of National Joint Council of Food Inspection Local Unions. "Instead of working to strengthening the government's hand to combat salmonella and other foodborne pathogens associated with poultry products, the Obama Administration has chosen to reduce inspection and deregulate. This disregard for public health and workers safety is deplorable."