Tomorrow, the new OIRA Administrator, Howard Shelanski, will testify before the House Small Business Committee on the results of the government-wide “look-back” at existing regulations. It will be an opportunity for the Committee’s Republicans to continue their assault on government programs that keep our food safe, air and water clean, and highways fit for travel. Shelanski could follow in his predecessor’s footsteps by trying to assuage the Republicans’ fears with glowing statistics about the allegedly huge savings that are expected to flow from revising some old regulations, or he could be more supportive of his fellow public servants and highlight the myriad programs that are working just fine and don’t need to be rolled back.
Food safety and occupational health advocates are hoping Shelanski will have an opportunity to give an update on a piece of the look-back program that falls somewhere between the extremes: the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) poultry slaughter “modernization” rule. While it is true that the poultry slaughter industry could use some 21st century upgrades to ensure that our chicken and turkey don’t arrive at the grocery store with Salmonella, e. coli, and other forms of contamination, the proposal that USDA put out last year is the wrong approach.
We’ve written about the problems with the proposal in this space before. The long and the short of it is that USDA’s proposal won’t necessarily improve food safety, but it will definitely increase the risk of injury for the folks who work in the plants.
The USDA Inspector General reviewed a 15 year-old pilot program in which swine slaughter facilities were granted waivers from current regulations, plant employees were given the responsibility of certain inspection tasks, USDA inspectors were moved off of the slaughter lines, and the line speeds were allowed to increase. Dubbed the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), the program is virtually identical to the proposed poultry inspection rule. The Inspector General’s review of the swine HIMP system revealed that 3 of the 10 plants cited with the most NRs [noncompliance records] from FYs 2008 to 2011 were HIMP plants. In fact, the swine plant with the most NRs during this timeframe was a HIMP plant—with nearly 50 percent more NRs than the plant with the next highest number.
In a letter today, CPR President Rena Steinzor joined with 28 NGOs and 18 other health and safety experts urging Shelanski to notify USDA that these concerns cannot be addressed without restarting the rulemaking process. Tomorrow would be a great opportunity for Shelanski to say that this part of the look-back process needs another look.