Senator Looks to Preserve USDA Inspector Staffing Levels

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced legislation in an effort to preserve current staffing levels of USDA inspectors in meat plants. This comes as the department is promoting a new model that would cut the federal inspection force. USDA inspection staffs have been cut by about 40-percent in poultry plants and 50-percent in five hog plants under a 15-year-old pilot program. The USDA inspectors have been replaced with inspectors employed by the meat industry. The pilot program also allows processing lines speeds to be increased by about 25-percent in poultry plants and 20-percent in the hog plants. USDA plans to propose final regulations later this year that would allow all poultry plants to switch to the alternative inspection model. Gillibrand wants each carcass in the nation's poultry, beef and hog plants to be checked by a USDA inspector before it's processed and sent to consumers. She says the legislation would reduce foodborne illness and strengthen the nation's agriculture and food industry.

The bill would also require USDA to work with other federal agencies to determine what rates processing line speeds can move at while also ensuring the safety of plants workers and USDA employees. In addition - USDA would get the power to shutdown poultry plants that repeatedly turn out products that fail salmonella safety tests.

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