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Changes to Meat Inspection Could Spell Savings for Poultry Industry

By Paul Boger | Published 30 Sep 2013 09:15am | comments
Poultry is a 2.5 billion dollar industry in Mississippi, and changes proposed by the US Department of Agriculture could increase that number while also making poultry safer to eat. Howeve, not everybody is on board with the changes.
 
The US Department of Agriculture is proposing a new set of rules that would take USDA meat inspectors off poultry processing lines.
 
The changes -- known as the Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection rule -- would shift USDA poultry inspectors away from processing lines and allow them to concentrate on testing birds for contamination; instead of physical flaws like bruising or blemishes. That task would be performed by the processors themselves. 
 
Dr. Elisabeth Hagen is the US Undersecretary for Food Safety, she says the proposed changes have been tested and proven to work.
 
"We've been doing this type of system as a pilot for over 15 years." said Hagen "When we looked at the data form our experience thus far, we found, that in fact, we have lower levels of defects. We have plants performing at a much higher standard. So we actually find lower levels of salmonella. Lower levels of fecal contamination. Lower levels of all kinds of consumer standards."
 
In addition to removing inspectors, the new rule would also increase the speed of the line. George Barlow is President of Mississippi's Coalition of Poultry Workers. He says changing the rules would hurt the quality of the meat.
 
"They already working at break-neck speed." said Barlow. "It's hard to imagine you doing, processing, handling two birds a second. If you go up to three-and-a-half to four birds per second, that's definitely going to decrease the quality of work that goes out."
 
While workers may disagree with the changes, others in the poultry industry see the new rules as a positive. According to a 2012 statement, the USDA calculates that by increasing speeds, and removing inspectors from the line, the changes could save the poultry industry more than 256 million dollars a year.
 
However, while in Jackson recently, U-S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he believes the changes come down to a matter of safety.
 
"I have spoken to moms and dads who have lost their children because they were poisoned by food." said Vilsack. "We want to reduce food-borne illness. We want to reduce the deaths and hospitalizations that come from that. We know from 15 years of experience that lives will be saved."
 
According to the National Chicken Council, Mississippi is in the top five chicken producing states in the nation; generating more than four and a half billion pounds in 2010.

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