• As our readership is well aware, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates the production of meat, poultry, and egg products. To help achieve its enumerated food safety goals, FSIS is continuously seeking to develop and promote best practices at slaughter that may be used to prevent, eliminate, or reduce levels of potential microbiological contamination of the food products subject to its jurisdiction. To this end, 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.
  • In particular, NCC requested that USDA structure the waiver program as follows:
    • An eligible establishment would have to participate in both NPIS and SIP
    • The establishment would develop a process for monitoring and ensuring it is maintaining process control at its chosen line speed, along with corrective actions to regain process control if lost; and
    • USDA would waive the line speed limitation in 9 C.F.R. § 381.69(a) and instead allow participating establishments to operate at any line speed at which they can maintain process control.
  • NCC contends that this waiver program will encourage more establishments to opt into NPIS, will not compromise food safety, and will promote and enhance Agency and industry efficiency.
  • To support its petition, NCC notes that, since 2007, twenty (20) plants participating in USDA’s HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) have been authorized to operate with line speeds up to 175 birds per minute (bpm) since 2007, and the Agency has recognized that these plants provide the same or better levels of food safety than plants operating with a maximum line speed of 140 bpm.
  • NCC argues that “granting establishments a waiver of the arbitrary line speed limitation in section 381.69(a) would allow all NPIS establishments the flexibility to choose to operate at appropriate line speeds based on their ability to maintain process control, thereby leveling the playing field within the U.S. chicken industry, eliminating competitive barriers between the U.S. and international chicken producers, removing arbitrary limitations on operational control in establishments, and encouraging more establishments to participate in NPIS.”
  • Last month, forty (40) groups representing the public health, consumer protection, labor, employer and civil rights sectors asked USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to oppose any increase in line speeds at U.S. poultry plants.
  • It remains to be seen how USDA will respond to NCC’s petition.