WASHINGTON, July 17, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Federation of Government Employees says the public should be allowed to review and comment on a U.S Department of Agriculture plan to overhaul the poultry inspection system before the rule takes effect.
USDA submitted a revised version of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget on July 10, seeking final review and approval. USDA officials have stated that "significant changes" have been made to the original proposed rule, which has been strongly criticized by AFGE and other labor and consumer groups, members of Congress, and other federal agencies.
USDA has refused to reveal what changes have been made to the proposal until the final rule is published in the Federal Register.
AFGE today sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Howard Shelanski, administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, urging a full public review of the rule before it is finalized. Specifically, AFGE is calling on the agencies to publish the revised version of the proposed rule, open it up for a 120-day public comment period, and hold public meetings on the revised proposed rule.
"Considering the importance of this rule, stakeholders and the public should be given the opportunity to comment on the 'significant changes' made to the proposed rule before it is finalized," AFGE Legislative and Political Director Beth Moten wrote.
The USDA plan, which was first proposed in January 2012, would remove most federal inspectors from the slaughter line and turn over inspection activities currently performed by federal inspectors to untrained employees hired by the poultry processing plants. The proposal also would allow plants to increase their line speeds up to 175 chicken carcasses per minute, meaning that the lone remaining federal inspector on the slaughter line will have one-third of one second to examine each chicken carcass for disease, infection and contamination.
"The USDA's original plan has been roundly criticized as a blatant attempt to cut costs without regard to the serious ramifications on the health and safety of consumers and plant workers," AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. "The public has a right to see what changes USDA has made to its cost-cutting plan and be able to respond to the revised plan before any action is taken."
The chief goal of the USDA's plan has been to save money, not to increase safety for consumers or workers, Cox said. The plan as originally proposed would save USDA about $90 million over three years, while poultry plants would reap more than $250 million a year in profits from increasing line speeds, according to the agency's own documents.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.
SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees