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Special Thanksgiving Edition: Trump and Poultry

This afternoon President Trump will pardon a turkey, providing Drumstick or Wishbone protection from the crosshairs of Big Agriculture.

Unfortunately, American workers and consumers haven’t been so lucky:

—President Trump is refusing to set exposure limits for a toxin regularly used in chicken processing. In 2015, the CDC began the process of setting exposure guidelines for 14 chemicals, including peracetic acid. Frequently used in chicken processing to kill bacteria, peracetic acid is toxic and both USDA health inspectors and poultry workers have claimed exposure can cause severe health problems. Since taking office, the Trump Administration has continuously delayed setting the exposure level at which the CDC considers the chemical “immediately dangerous to life or health.”

SIDEBAR:The Administration last delayed setting the exposure limit in June, claiming the move was “in response to a request from an interested party.” The interested party? The Peroxy Compounds Task Force’s Peracetic Acid Group. The National Chicken Council, the largest poultry industry interest group in the country, had “encouraged” the Administration to consider the Task Force’s request.

The Administration is working with industry lobbyists to circumvent worker protections for poultry processing.  Another industry priority on the Trump Administration’s radar: Allowing certain chicken processing facilities to waive the safety protections that ensured workers were not forced to handle more than 140 birds-per-minute.  The National Chicken Council formally petitioned USDA to waive the safety protections in September and allow their members to operate processing facilities at any speed.  The Administration hasn’t officially made a decision, but a top USDA official has “expressed sympathy for the industry’s cause.”

SIDEBAR: Poultry workers suffer serious injuries at nearly 2X the rate of workers in other industries and have rates of occupational illness 6X times higher than average. Should the waiver be approved, it wouldn’t be the first time President Trump put industry profits over worker safety. Earlier this year the White House revoked an Obama-era Executive Order that would have ensured federal contracting officers had information about workplace safety violations when evaluating a bid.

USDA is illegally rolling back rules designed to strengthen the poultry organic certification process and help consumers and family farms. On January 19, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service strengthened requirements for poultry producers who certify as “organic” under the National Organic Program. The move sought to prevent large producers from misleading consumers and protect small farms that were meeting high standards. Under pressure from agricultural lobbying groups, the Trump Administration has delayed implementation of the rule four times, and is considering withdrawing it altogether. The Administration’s repeated delays are unlawful, and are being challenged in court.

SIDEBAR: Harming small farmers seems to be a theme. In September, USDA announced the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration — responsible for investigating unfair and anticompetitive practices by meatpacking companies — will cease to be a standalone agency. Family farmers say that in making the decision, the Administration “appears to have lost sight” of its critical obligation to “strengthen the family farm system.”

And for the vegetarians in the family:

—The Administration plans to let Big Ag use fecal-contaminated water in food production. In 2015, FDA finalized new rules requiring growers to test the water they use for contaminants such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. In September, FDA proposed to delay compliance dates of the water contamination rules until at least 2022. When FDA originally finalized the food safety rules in 2015 (of which the water contamination rules were a part), they estimated that the rules would prevent nearly 368,000 instances of preventable illness from foodborne contamination each year.

SIDEBAR: FDA’s actions are potentially illegal, as Congress mandated the food safety rules be finalized within two years of the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. The Administrative Procedure Act prohibits the Administration from unlawfully withholding or delaying agency action in this manner.

Happy Thanksgiving?

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