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When in doubt, eat potatoes?

Flickr by USDA

The Obama administration’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would like the public to believe that a third of a second is ample time to inspect a chicken for bacteria, feces and other food-borne illnesses.

We think otherwise.

On January 27, 2012, the FSIS proposed a rule, “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” (77 FR 4408). The rule would increase the speed of the poultry assembly line from between 75 and 91 chickens per minute to a mind-boggling 175 chickens per minute. If this takes effect, inspectors will be given just a third of a second to inspect each chicken before it starts its journey to your plate. Wanna see how fast that is? Just click here (really, it’s pretty amazing).

What can you do in a third of a second? Probably not much. Certainly not ensure a chicken is safe to eat.

Increased line speeds are nothing short of reckless and, if implemented, would jeopardize public health and worker safety. Less inspection time easily translates to a greater likelihood that contaminated chicken will end up in your grocer’s market or nearby restaurant.

The proposed rule also removes United States Department of Agriculture inspectors from the inspection process. Consumers would place their health in the hands of the poultry industry.

When Herbert Hoover campaigned on the message of feeding America and promised “a chicken for every pot,” it’s a pretty safe bet that this is not what he was envisioning.

Chicken processing is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, both in the number of birds processed and workers required to perform processing duties. According to Priyanka Pathak of Georgians for Pastured Poultry, “Worker health and safety is a significant problem in poultry industry processing plants, where workers use repetitive motions 20,000 to 30,000 times a day on an assembly lines used to process, on average, 200,000 birds per day.”

If the newly proposed rule is adopted, workers can expect even harsher conditions.

Americans count on a safe food supply. The food-borne illness outbreaks that frequently make the news show that our safety net still has holes. Rather than make food less safe to eat and harm workers’ health in the process, the Obama administration should be working to make our food safer. Only one word can characterize this proposal: irresponsible.

Learn more about this issue by visiting: http://sensiblesafeguards.org/poultry-rule-information-center and please spread the word that today, September 27th at 3pm @USDA will be hosting a Twitter town hall. Follow @RegsRock on Twitter and see how you can engage in the conversation using the hashtag #AskUSDA.

Keith Wrightson, @SafeWorkers, is Public Citizen’s worker safety and health advocate.