Chicken Plants to Douse Birds With More Chemicals

Because USDA is set to OK increase conveyor belt speeds

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 25, 2013 1:27 PM CDT | Updated Apr 28, 2013 11:47 AM CDT

(Newser) – The Washington Post has a lengthy, appetite-killing story about new rules set to go into place at US poultry plants that are likely to result in an increase in chemicals used to treat the birds. The USDA is expected to allow plants' processing lines to move even faster later this year—from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute for chickens, and from 45 to 55 per minute for turkeys. That means the birds will be whizzing by so fast that workers won't be able to visually spot signs of contamination, like fecal matter. Solution: Don't remove any birds from the line, and just douse them with more bacteria-killing chemicals throughout the process.

"If line speeds at a plant are increased and if more birds are produced, obviously the volume of antimicrobials will increase to ensure that each bird is treated with the proper food safety interventions," says an industry exec from the National Chicken Council. Which is interesting because it seems to directly contradict a USDA statement: "We have no reason to believe chemical usage would increase under this proposed" system. Critics are worried not only about the potential effects on consumers but on workers and inspectors in the plants. The Post notes that the USDA leaves the question of health risks to the FDA to handle—except the FDA relies on research conducted by the chemicals' manufacturers. Click for the full story.

File photo of a chicken farm, this one in China.
File photo of a chicken farm, this one in China.   (AP Photo/Gillian Wong, File)
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