GAO Criticizes USDA for Faster Line Speeds

The department receives flak for attempting to implement a new plan that may call food safety into question.

According to a recent article from Reuters, regulators from the USDA have been criticized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for attempting to change the rate and speed of inspections at slaughterhouses, which they believe could jeopardize the safety of poultry and meat. GAO believes USDA did not evaluate the pilot project that sparked this proposal enough.

The project in question aims to speed up processing lines in slaughterhouses while also cutting down on the number of government inspections. Originally developed in 1998, the pilot project, used at 29 different plants, promised to create more a streamlined process with safer food safety levels. In 2012, USDA said it wanted to implement the pilot plan nationwide. According to Politico, the plan also calls for poultry plants to implement written safety procedures regarding cross contamination between fresh chicken and carcasses/fecal material.

The pilot project reported positive results; however, GAO believes this is because they used a "pick and choose" method for their data instead of reporting everything. GAO ultimately thinks this plan cuts down on safety protocol (it speeds up the process by 25 percent), possibly jeopardizing the quality of meat and thereby possibly causing more foodborne illnesses.

USDA does not believe the new plan will cut down on food safety and pointed out several inaccuracies in the GAO report, most namely the fact that the new plan will not call the safety of poultry into question. The plan, according to USDA, is designed solely to avoid overlapping, unnecessary inspections, which can actually allow its personnel to spend more time on higher-risk food safety issues and cut back on taxpayer expenses.

If implemented nationwide, the program would be the first major inspection change in the poultry industry in 50 years.

For more information and to read the opinion of a USDA official, visit: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/meat-safety-poultry-change-critics-96296.html?hp=l9

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