December 18, 2012

Critics: New poultry-processing proposal jeopardizes food safety

Federal regulators say the new rules dramatically speed up production and will save millions of dollars.

By LINDSAY WISE/McClatchy Newspapers

(Continued from page 1)

New USDA rule would speed poultry-processing lines, worrying inspectors
click image to enlarge

Stan Painter, a federal poultry inspector and chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, takes medication for arthritis that could be the result of food-borne bacteria he ingested this summer in Texas.

Mary F. Calvert/McClatchy Newspapers

Bacteria rates in chicken
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After days of fever, headaches and diarrhea, Painter had lost 9 pounds and developed such painful swelling in his joints that he couldn't even walk the 100 yards from his house to his mailbox. He said a doctor told him the condition likely was caused by foodborne bacteria, although it was too late to isolate which ones.

"People don't realize -- I didn't realize -- that you can get (arthritis) from eating something," Painter said.

He and other union officials say his health troubles underscore the urgency of their longtime fight against the USDA's proposed rule, which they believe will make chicken less safe for consumers by semi-privatizing poultry inspection.

Fewer federal inspectors in plants means fewer police on the beat, and more opportunities for plants to cut corners, Painter said. "If I know the cops are not going to be on the road in 50 miles, I'm gonna speed," he added.

"The agency is looking at taking 817 inspectors off the poultry lines. I can't imagine anything worse than that," said Trent Berhow, a poultry inspector in St. Joseph, Mo., who's the vice chairman of the union.

"A lot of people would say, 'They're just union blowhards thinking about jobs.' No, we're not," Berhow said. "We're thinking about lives. ... It's not about jobs. It is about food safety."


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