Consumer group fights with USDA over food safety

Campaigners with the consumer advocacy group SumofUs.org unspool pages of an online petition with what they say are 500,000 signatures urging President Obama to stop expansion of a USDA meat inspection pilot program. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WASHINGTON – Modernizing the way meat is processed for your plate could gross you out, according to the group SumOfUs.org.

The group took what it says were 500,000 signatures from an online petition to the White House Thursday urging President Obama to halt plans to expand a U.S. Department of Agriculture plan to streamline and speed up the processing of poultry.

Rob Wohl, a campaigner at SumOfUs.org, an online consumer advocacy group, says the U.S. Agriculture Department’s plans to expand it’s HIMP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-Based Inspection Models Program) pilot program to poultry operations throughout the country could leave consumers at risk for diseases like salmonella.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service denies any claims that it’s efforts to boost efficiency compromise health or safety. Cathy Cochran, public affairs specialist with the Food Safety and Inspection Service sent the following statement to WTOP regarding SumOfUs.org’s statements:

These allegations are false. Groups claiming to be food safety focused are protesting modernization that would prevent at least 5,000 American illnesses every year. These food safety enhancements dramatically lower fecal contamination rates and positive Salmonella test results in poultry plants, not to mention that they would put in place stricter requirements for quality defects, such as bruises.

Cochran, speaking for the USDA, said an opinion piece that appeared on the website FoodSafetyNews.com, sums up the USDA’s position.

Tom Super, vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council, says it is not in companies’ best interest to operate at speeds that cannot produce safe and high quality poultry products.

“USDA’s proposal is about making poultry products safer. It is about shifting more federal resources to focus on things you can’t see, like Salmonella and other food borne bacteria. This proposal has been tested, studied, debated and proven successful for 14 years,” Super says.

This article has been modified to remove a Washington Post article that was about a USDA Inspector General audit of pork slaughter plants, not poultry plants.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @kateryanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.


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