The USDA this week announced final rules for the nation’s poultry inspection system, a framework that will result in significant regulatory changes at Cargill and Hormel’s turkey plants.
The overhaul would cut the number of government poultry inspectors. But those who remain will focus more on food safety than on quality, requiring them to pull more birds off the line for closer inspections and encouraging more testing for pathogens, according to the Associated Press.
Minnesota has strong ties to the turkey industry. It’s the nation’s largest live turkey producer, and Austin-based Hormel Foods’ Jennie-O has significant operations here. Along with Hormel, Minnetonka-based Cargill is one of the nation’s biggest turkey processors, though its operations are mostly elsewhere.
Cargill said in a statement it supports of the proposed USDA changes “because there will be a greater focus on scientific methods” to address bacteria that can make people sick. “Nevertheless, inspection will not be reduced,” the company said.
Hormel said in a statement that it’s “reviewing the extensive rule in-depth and will continue to comply with all USDA inspection rules to ensure safe, quality and wholesome products. Food safety is a top priority for Jennie-O Turkey Store.”
However, the Center of Science in the Public Interest, a food industry watchdog group, criticized the final poultry rule, saying in a statement it “privatizes many poultry inspection activities” and reduces the ranks of government safety inspectors.
A controversial measure to increase the line speed in chicken plants from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute was dropped from the final regulation. Worker groups had criticized that proposal, saying line speed injuries are already an issue.
But turkey plants will be allowed to increase production by a range of 45 to 51 birds per minute to 55 per birds per minute. Some turkey plants, including two of Cargill’s four plants, have already been running at 55 birds per minute because they’ve been part of a USDA pilot program for several years.
Hormel does not appear to have any turkey plants in the USDA pilot program, according to a USDA web site.