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Article: UNIFIED AGENDA - FSIS to propose rule to increase poultry slaughter line speeds in August

08 July 2020

This is from our policy coverage dated 06/07/20.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) plans this summer to propose a new rule to allow young chicken plants to maximize their line speeds, a move likely to draw the ire of consumer and animal welfare groups.

Appearing for the first time in the Spring 2020 Unified Agenda, the proposal would spell out the criteria for certain plants under the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) to operate at line speeds up to 175 birds per minute.

The poultry industry says the faster line speeds are critical to stay competitive in the global market.

But the issue has become a lightning rod for consumer groups, who are also suing FSIS over the agency's October 2019 rule to modernize hog processing. Along with modernizing the processing of poultry and hogs, FSIS approved a petition in March that granted Tyson Foods the first waiver to change line speeds and inspection staffing at its Kansas beef plant.

FSIS already allows poultry plants that qualify for waivers to operate until higher line speeds. Before the 2018 policy change, FSIS only allowed 20 plants participating in the NPIS to run their lines at speeds up to 175 bpm, but that number has increased since 2018 and advocates say more than 180 plants could opt into the NPIS.

The issue of speeding processing lines at meat plants during the COVID-19 crisis has also been the focus of FSIS critics. Advocates called out FSIS for approving 15 plant waivers in April while the disease spread among workers in meat plants, and attorneys general in more than a dozen states called on USDA to suspend all line speed waivers and a halt to approval of any additional waivers while the outbreak continues. FSIS in March announced it would no longer receive new waiver requests.

The poultry slaughterhouse waiver system is also being challenged in court. The Humane Society of the US joined other groups in suing FSIS in February, alleging federal officials failed to follow federal law with the waiver policy and ignored concerns about the impacts on animal welfare, worker safety, and public health. The groups charged FSIS created the waiver process without ample opportunity for public comment.

Peter Brandt, managing attorney with HSUS, criticized FSIS for signaling its intention to propose the rule this summer.

"The agency's plan to belatedly begin rulemaking confirms our allegations that its present approach of allowing chicken slaughter to increase to 175 birds per minute is illegal," he told IHS Markit.

"No matter how USDA achieves it, killing 3 birds per second remains reckless, dangerous and cruel for workers and animals. Until the agency abandons this sweetheart deal for the chicken slaughtering industry we will continue to fight it," he said.

PROPOSED RULE STAGE

Maximum Line Speed under the New Poultry Inspection System (0583-AD85)

FSIS is amending the poultry products inspection regulations to permit young chicken slaughter establishments operating under the NPIS to operate at line speeds up to 175 bpm if certain criteria were met. Young chicken establishments approved to operate at the maximum line speed would need to continue to meet these criteria to operate at more than 140 bpm. FSIS said the changes would make bird processing more efficient while continuing to ensure food safety and effective online carcass inspection.

Status: The proposed rule, which appears in the agenda for the first time, is due out in August 2020.

Internet Access at Official Establishments (0583-AD86)

FSIS is proposing to require establishments that have an Internet connection to provide FSIS access for conducting and recording inspection verification activities. Internet service is essential to FSIS personnel during inspection of meat, poultry, and egg products, given the need to fully employ the FSIS Public Health Information System (PHIS). PHIS assigns inspectors tasks to verify the establishment meets regulatory requirements and to respond to public health incidents promptly. FSIS views Internet service as a necessary utility, like lighting, heating, and laundry services, that should be provided by establishments as a regulatory condition of receiving inspection, the agency said.

Status: FSIS had expected to propose this rule, which appears in the agenda for the first time, in June 2020.

To Establish a Uniform Time Period Requirement and Clarify Related Procedures for Filing Appeals of Agency Inspection Actions (0583-AD76)

The proposal would establish a deadline and simplify the process for filing appeals to certain FSIS decisions. FSIS plans to require any person or establishment subject to inspection to appeal an action within 30 days after receiving notification.

Status: The measure is due in July 2020.

Changes to Accreditation of Non-Federal Laboratories for Analytical Testing of Meat, Poultry, and Processed Egg Products (0583-AD70)

FSIS is proposing to revise the statistical methods used in measuring the performance of chemistry laboratories in its voluntary Accredited Laboratory Program (ALP) and to expand the program to include pathogen testing. FSIS is also proposing to allow laboratories accredited under this program to perform the initial screening for pathogens on official samples. The agency is further proposing to clarify the regulation, to incorporate all sample types under the jurisdiction of FSIS as appropriate for the associated analyses, and to improve program flexibility.

Status: FSIS had expected to issue a proposed rule by June 2020.

Prior Label Approval System: Expansion of Generic Label Approval (0583-AD78)

FSIS is proposing to expand the categories of meat and poultry product labels that it will deem generically approved, which do not have to be submitted to FSIS. These reforms will reduce the regulatory burden on producers and the government's costs to review the labels. FSIS said it is confident that there will be no food safety impacts, based on FSIS's experience evaluating these types of labels and the ability of inspection personnel to verify labeling requirements in the field.

Status: FSIS intends to publish a proposal by July 2020.

Movement of Adulterated and Misbranded Product (0583-AD79)

FSIS is proposing to "remove unnecessary provisions related to oral permission requirements, consolidate provisions in the meat inspection regulations that prescribe reinspection requirements for previously inspected and passed meat and poultry products before these products may enter an official establishment, and clarify that official establishments that transport adulterated or misbranded product under establishment or FSIS controls to another official establishment for appropriate disposition are not required to notify or obtain permission from FSIS prior to transporting the product."

Status: FSIS intends to publish a proposal in August 2020.

FINAL RULE STAGE

Elimination of Dual Weight Labeling Requirements for Certain Meat and Poultry Products (0583-AD71)

FSIS is no longer requiring packages of meat or poultry products that contain at least one pound or pint, but less than four pounds or one gallon, to express the net weight or net contents as a dual declaration on the product label. The agency would also make conforming amendments to regulations that currently provide exceptions to the dual declaration requirements for random weight, small, and multi-unit packages, as well as certain packages containing margarine and bacon.

Status: FSIS plans to publish a final rule in July 2020.

Egg Products Inspection Regulations (0583-AC58)

FSIS will require official egg products plants to develop and implement Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), consistent with HACCP and Sanitation SOP requirements in the meat and poultry products inspection regulations. FSIS will require egg products plants to produce egg products using a process that will eliminate detectable pathogens from the finished product. Plants will be required to develop HACCP systems that ensure that pathogens cannot be detected in finished egg products.

In addition, FSIS is amending the egg products inspection regulations by removing the current requirements for prior approval by FSIS of egg products plant drawings, specifications, and equipment prior to their use in official plants; providing for the generic labeling of egg products; requiring safe handling labels on shell eggs and egg products; and changing the Agency's interpretation of the requirement for continuous inspection in official plants.

Status: FSIS plans to issue a final rule in July 2020.

Revision of the Nutrition Facts Panels for Meat and Poultry Products and Updating Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (0583-AD56)

FSIS said the final rule will: (1) update the list of nutrients that are required or permitted to be declared; (2) provide updated Daily Reference Values (DRV) and Reference Daily Intake (RDI) values, and (3) amend the requirements for foods represented or purported to be specifically for children under the age of four years and pregnant and lactating women and establish nutrient reference values specifically for these population subgroups. FSIS is also revising the format of the Nutrition Facts Panel; amending the definition of a single-serving container; requiring dual-column labeling for certain containers; and updating and modifying several reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs or reference amounts). FSIS is also consolidating the nutrition labeling regulations for meat and poultry products into a new Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part.

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