• USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates the production of meat, poultry, and egg products. In 2014, FSIS published a final rule called the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” (79 FR 49566, Aug. 21, 2014) which amended the poultry regulations to establish an additional inspection system, called the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS), for young chicken and turkey slaughter establishments. Under the final rule, the maximum line speed for young chicken slaughter establishments that operate under NPIS is 140 birds per minute. See 9 C.F.R. 381.69(a). On September 1, 2017, the National Chicken Council (NCC) petitioned USDA-FSIS to implement a waiver system to permit young chicken slaughter establishments participating in the NPIS and the Salmonella Initiative Program (SIP) to operate without the line speed limitations imposed under the NPIS. See previous blog coverage here.
  • On Friday, October 13, 2017, USDA-FSIS announced a 60-day period for the public to comment on the chicken industry’s petition to waive line speed restrictions under the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).
  • Because NPIS places organoleptic inspection duties in the processor’s hands and transfers FSIS inspectors to food safety verification procedures later in the production process, line speeds have become a particularly hot-button issue. For example, earlier this year, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue urging the Agency to bump maximum line speeds to 175 birds per minute from 140. Rep. Collins contends that bumping the line speed would make U.S. poultry processing facilities more competitive in the global marketplace, noting that poultry producers in South America, Asia, Canada, and Europe are safely operating at line speeds that outpace the maximum speeds allowed in American facilities. In response, a group of House Democrats, urged USDA to reject the renewed call to increase line speeds in poultry-processing plants, citing “detrimental effects” to food, worker and animal safety.
  • USDA will be accepting comments on NCC’s petition for the next 60 days (or until December 13, 2017). Given the controversy surrounding this issue, it remains to be seen how USDA will ultimately respond to the petition.