There has been a recent outcry about new regulations that would potentially modernize the poultry slaughter inspection system. These regulations are undoubtedly controversial, but they pale in comparison to the finding of the fourth case of Mad Cow disease in the United States.
Nonetheless, the voices of those complaining about new regulations for the poultry industry are louder than those discussing the implications of Mad Cow disease in a California dairy cow. From the fuss, you would think that changes to the poultry industry are a big deal. The consumer is always right, they say. Except in this case.
Currently, carcass evaluations of chickens in the U.S. are done visually on a processing line. The speed of the line is measured in birds per minute (bpm). New regulations would increase the maximum line speeds from 140 to 175 bpm, according to the USDA.
The USDA left a wake of consumers and news outlets expressing deep concern for the speeds that call Roadrunner to mind. Most are concerned about increases in food safety problems, according to Food Safety News. These are reasonable concerns, but most of the debates are a little light on facts.
The change is not drastic, and is based on positive results from a pilot program started 13 years ago. According to an article released by the Huffington Post, the line speeds at HACCP Inspection Models Project (HIMP) plants already run between 165 and 200 bpm. Because of regulations, HIMP plants have fewer government inspectors and more quality control duties fall onto plant workers.
Not only do these HIMP plants cost less to run, but they work well, too. Performance results are published every year, revealing the percentage of birds with defects missed by visual inspection. Ironically, few of the numerous articles raging against the new regulations mention those results.
I guess it is hard to complain about the new line speeds using facts that prove they work. The results published from 2004 to 2011 indicate that approximately zero percent of birds suffering from infectious diseases and fecal contamination were missed in HIMP plants.
Unfortunately, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) must have missed these numbers when they called these new regulations “dangerous”. According to The Wall Street Journal, AFGE believes this to be the perfect recipe for putting diseased chickens onto kitchen tables.
Too bad the math proves them wrong. But here is some more interesting math in regard to AFGE. The proposal is going to cut around 800 jobs for government inspectors, as evidenced by projections in the Huffington Post.
There is something odd going on here. It is called a conflict of interest. Of course government employees are not going to like regulations that cut government jobs, even if the math shows that government jobs are costing the poultry industry millions.
This proposal will save the poultry industry $95 million in the course of three years. That is a no brainer — $95 million is a lot of savings that can be passed down to the consumer and, reportedly, underpaid plant workers.
However, recent issues in agriculture, including the Pink Slime controversy, have proven that consumers and news outlets do not always care about the facts. This is going to leave animal agriculture begging for salvation all year long. Even with the facts on their side, the poultry industry is going to have to keep its chickens in line — both on the line and off.