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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

USDA Poultry Plan Linked to Animal Welfare, Food Safety Threats

Food Integrity Campaign | October 31, 2013

Where there’s risk of animal cruelty at slaughterhouses, food safety concerns are probably not that far behind, and vice versa!

USDA whistleblowers have revealed in the last two years the threats to public health caused by the agency’s poultry processing inspection plan (which would increase line speeds to 175 birds per minute), but now poultry inspectors and other experts have also drawn links between the plan and an increased risk of inhumane handling. Another reason it needs the boot!

Yesterday’s front-page Washington Post story reports that an annual average of 825,000 chickens die when they enter the scalder (a tank of boiling water used to help defeather them), rather than an automated blade swipe earlier on the slaughter line. This happens when birds are not properly shackled and stunned as they go down the already rapidly paced system. According to researchers, “the resulting death is far more painful for the birds than if they are properly incapacitated and their necks cut.”

The USDA’s plan to increase line speeds applies directly to the poultry processing lines after slaughter, but wouldn’t more birds need to be slaughtered to meet the plan’s goals? Would that 825,000 number of chickens dying by scalder increase if the plan was implemented? A worrisome thought.

Another concern is, of course, food safety. From the article:

Birds that have been boiled alive can be identified by the cherry-red color of their skin, which results because their bodies were not drained of blood during slaughter. Birds that died this way must be discarded, because their meat is saturated with blood and can breed bacteria or disguise the presence of disease.

This resulting bruised meat needs to be kept out of the food supply, but under the proposal, many government inspectors would be removed from the line and unable to flag birds that have suffered abuse and are not fit for human consumption. The inspectors would, instead, be replaced by poultry companies’ own employees – workers who lack adequate whistleblower protections and cannot safely speak up when they witness a problem. This outsourcing of inspection is indeed “too hard to swallow.”

If you haven’t already, check out USDA whistleblower Phyllis McKelvey’s petition urging the plan’s immediate withdrawal.


Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.