The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) may allow poultry plants in the near future to process diseased chickens for human consumption.

In July, the FSIS approved a petition from the National Chicken Council to allow slaughterhouses to kill and sell chickens infected with Avian Leukosis, a virus that causes cancerous lesions and tumors.

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Inspectors would no longer be required to examine the first 300 birds of each flock for signs of the disease. Processors would handle Avian Leukosis as a “trimmable condition,” simply cutting off tumors and lesions and processing the rest of the bird.

The head of FSIS is now deciding whether the proposed change will move forward.

Although a small percentage of birds are diagnosed with Avian Leukosis each year, it spreads quickly through flocks, especially due to overcrowding conditions, killing tens of thousands of chickens annually through exposure.

Parthapratim Basu, who served as the Chief Public Health Veterinarian for the FSIS from 2016 to 2018, explained that Avian Leukosis can become a systemic disease that passes through the blood, meaning that cutting out tumors would fail to eliminate the virus from the bird.

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Allowing diseased birds to enter our food system is extremely dangerous as the CDC reports that “more than six out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.”

“The proposed change once again illustrates our government’s willingness to bow to major agribusiness interests at the expense of animal and human health,” says Ben Williamson, Program Director, World Animal Protection, US. “This is clearly an aim to maximize efficiencies and do away with critical regulations that hold the industry accountable to food safety, worker welfare, and animal wellbeing.”

The proposed change comes as the USDA has allowed faster line speeds in slaughterhouses which endangers workers and food safety while increasing suffering of animals. Animal rights organizations, labor groups, and members of Congress are all pressuring the agency to slow line speeds.

Read more about Sen. Booker’s Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act and sign this petition telling the USDA to stop increasing line speeds.

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