USDA Has No Plans to Withdraw Poultry Rule

The Government Accountability Office has issued a report that criticizes the way USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has handled pilot projects that led to a proposed rule to make changes to poultry inspections. Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen says that will not prompt USDA to withdraw the rule. Hagen notes GAO did not suggest withdrawing the rule. She also points out that the rule is based on more than the pilot projects analyzed by the GAO and adds that this is about public health. According to Hagen - we've got to reverse the trend on salmonella - and this is a big step toward it. According to the GAO - stakeholders didn't have adequate information to comment on the rule because of USDA's lack of evaluation and disclosure. Hagen says the comment period is closed - but says the proposal will go through further drafting before it is sent to the Office of Management and Budget.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand - who chairs a Senate Ag Subcommittee - requested the GAO study. She said USDA didn't thoroughly evaluate the performance of pilot projects to change the system of poultry inspection before concluding that an inspection system based on the pilot projects would ensure equivalent - if not better - levels of food safety and quality than currently provided at plants not in the pilot project.

Wenonah Hauter - Food and Water Watch Executive Director - says the GAO confirmed her group's fears that FSIS doesn't have the scientific bases to justify privatizing poultry inspection. Hauter says it's time to take a look at the poor management of FSIS, withdraw the flawed rule and restore the funding in the fiscal year 2014 budget to keep independent and trained FSIS inspectors on the job.

The National Chicken Council defends the proposal - saying it's all about making food safer. The group believes the poultry inspection system should be modernized and notes FSIS plans to present updated analyses with the final rule in a manner that will facilitate public understanding of the information used to support the rulemaking.

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