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Food | Respiratory conditions | Occupational illnesses | Worker health and wellness | Manufacturing | Workplace exposures

USDA inspectors describe hazards in poultry plants

May 1, 2013

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Washington – Chemicals used in poultry processing plants may pose a risk to inspectors and plant workers, according to affidavits from two U.S. Department of Agriculture employees.

The affidavits were released April 25 by the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy organization that took the inspectors’ statements. GAP is one of several groups opposing a proposed rule from USDA that would allow plants to increase poultry line speeds.

Chemical use in poultry plants has increased since facilities switched from taking contaminated birds off the line to leaving them on and treating the birds with disinfecting chemicals such as chlorine, according to the affidavits.

As a result, one affidavit (.pdf file) states, inspectors experienced respiratory problems such as tightness in the chest; difficulty breathing; burning in the eyes, nose and throat; asthma; and bronchitis.

In the second affidavit, the other inspector claimed (.pdf file) temperature extremes in plants made chemical scents stronger, which made it hard to breathe, and may have caused joint pain. The inspector noted that workers must deal with the same conditions but fear retaliation if they speak up.