September 29, 2022

Congress members ask USDA to delay poultry plant safety study

Congress members ask USDA to delay poultry plant safety study 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

Representative Andrew Clyde (R-GA), along with 34 members of Congress sent a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, requesting the USDA to postpone a poultry plant safety study. The letter contains a list of over 20 questions the congressmen would like answered before September 30th.

The congressmen’s letter states they are “specifically concerned with the amount of data requested, the lack of details regarding the information requested, the specifics of the study discussed in those letters, and the length of time given to establishments to respond to the letters. “ 

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) study looks at the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) that allows the operation of poultry lines at speeds up to 175 birds per minute. According to the letter, in July, 55 poultry facilities participating in the USDA waiver program received a letter from the agency within one month. The plants must participate in the study to retain line speed waivers. The letter also noted that FSIS expected plants to agree to participate in a third-party worker safety study and agree to provide worker safety data to receive a modified waiver to continue operating at current line speeds. This could reduce poultry plant line speeds by up to 25%. 

“If an establishment does not meet the agency’s aggressive timeline, establishments will lose their waivers and only have 60 days to return to operating at 140 birds per minute (bpm),” the letter said. “If the agency forces the industry to cut production, the ripple effects will be disastrous to consumers of American-raised chicken both domestically and abroad, the family farmers that work tirelessly to raise broiler chickens, the health and welfare of millions of broiler chickens, and the industry as a whole.”

A few of the questions the congressmen would like answers to by September 30th are below: 

  • How did the Department choose the third party that is conducting the study? If the Department had assistance in selecting the third party, please name all parties involved.

  • What assurances has the Department put in place that all information provided by companies to FSIS (including personnel records, videography, proprietary business information, personally identifiable information, etc.) will not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act or any other form of information release?

  • Does the Department plan to share the design of the study with industry, particularly worker safety experts within said establishments, and will there be an opportunity to comment or provide input on the design of the study?

  • Will the Department limit the scope of the study to evisceration line speeds, or will it include within the scope (and its metrics for success) any additional information obtained from the establishment, including unrelated previous Freedom of Information Act citations?

As far as agricultural organizations are concerned, the congressmen have the support of the National Chicken Council. Read the full letter here