Tester to USDA: Dont choose big meatpackers over small producers
Senator tells department not to loosen meat processing rules that may threaten food safety
(GREAT FALLS, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture to back off new poultry and meat processing rules that help the world’s largest meatpacking companies at the expense of smaller processing facilities and local food producers.
Tester is questioning USDA plans to allow the largest meat processing plants to speed up their inspection process, saying the practice will increase big meatpackers’ advantage in the market, reduce oversight and lead to more health and safety violations.
USDA’s proposed new rules for poultry processing facilities allow for animal carcasses to move through the line more quickly with fewer safety inspectors. Tester wants the department to stop and review the draft poultry rules and a similar meat processing program, pointing to data that shows processing facilities with faster lines and fewer inspectors have more health and safety violations.
“These recent USDA actions threaten to take rural America and consumer confidence in the wrong direction,” Tester told Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Given these violations and the lack of thorough food safety evaluations, any attempt by USDA to expand this altered inspection approach is misguided and premature.”
“Senator Tester is right to ask tough questions of the USDA,” said Gynnie Robnett with the Coalition for Sensible Safeguard. “The administration’s proposal to replace some federal food inspectors with food company employees could threaten the safety of the poultry we serve to our families during the holidays and throughout the year, and has worrying implications for workers who are already doing one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Congress should investigate whether the Agriculture Department’s proposal is the right thing to do.”
Tester is also urging USDA to reinstate the ban that prevents cooked chicken from China from being sold in the United States. Tester says the ban keeps chicken from a country “with an atrocious record on food safety” out of the U.S. and wants the department to require labeling of processed food from China and other countries.
Tester also wants USDA to expand opportunities for small and local meat processors. He says too many Montana ranchers do not have access to the slaughter and processing facilities needed to sell their goods.
Tester, the Senate’s only working farmer, recently removed the controversial ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ from a government funding bill, saying the measure’s removal was a “victory for American consumers and family farm agriculture.”
Tester’s letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is available below.