Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) is releasing evidence it has gathered from federal poultry inspector whistleblowers about chemical use in the industry and its health impacts.
GAP is making publicly available affidavits from two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors that illustrate serious health hazards regarding chemical use they observed at multiple poultry processing plants.
GAP Food Integrity Campaign Director Amanda Hitt stated, "The questionable chemical use in the poultry industry is clearly of great concern to inspectors and should be a concern to consumers as well. GAP has been investigating this issue at poultry processing plants for the last two years."
Some of the problems that these affidavits raise include:
- Inspectors saw an increase in chemical use when poultry processing plants switched from "offline processing" to "online processing" procedures. In offline processing, contaminated birds are brought away from the main processing line to be reprocessed for the removal of fecal matter and other imperfections. In online processing, contaminated carcasses remain on the processing line with the other birds, and all birds are sprayed with chemicals (such as peracetic acid) to clean them.
- Inspectors and plant employees experience serious, ongoing health problems resulting from chemical exposure, including sinus infections, bronchitis, asthma and respiratory difficulties.
- Despite doctor warnings that the chemicals deployed in poultry plants are detrimental to employee health, inspectors suffer through them because they need to keep their jobs. Plant workers are also afraid to raise concerns due to fear of retaliation by the poultry companies.
- Inspectors said their concerns and safety reports continue to be ignored or ineffectively addressed. For example, in response to concerns regarding poor ventilation, the plant installed fans, which simply circulated airborne chemicals rather than expelling them.
- Heaters and fans previously provided to inspectors and plant employees during extreme seasonal temperature shifts were removed in some plants, exacerbating health problems. One inspector believes the move was an act of retaliation following inspectors' non-compliance reports.
These health concerns are likely to become more serious and widespread, considering the USDA's proposed changes to the federal poultry inspection system, which FIC strongly opposes.
"This is just another way in which the USDA's plan is a threat to food safety," said Hitt. "I'm all for improving inspection, but this plan isn't it. Not only does the plan put consumers at risk, but the threat to workers is now evident."
The names of the inspectors, and all identifying information of the specific plants, have been redacted at the request of the inspectors. GAP, however, vouches for the validity of the affidavits.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.