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New USDA Ruling Allows for Chicken to Be Produced From Diseased Birds

The chicken on your plate may have been riddled with tumors.
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When the president invoked the Defense Production Act in April, to keep essential goods in production through the pandemic, it had some unexpected consequences on the food supply chain.

The meat industry, in particular, has seen a significant deregulation. Rollbacks of safety measures such as plant inspection standards, meat labeling regulations, and farm pollution restrictions have taken place in service of preventing meat shortages and keeping the industry operational with fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through.

Now, as a direct result, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said it will allow the sales of chicken meat made from birds that have had diseases. And yes, that's for human consumption.

Bloomberg reports that in July, the agency accepted a petition from the National Chicken Council to allow slaughterhouses to process birds infected with Avian Leukosis. The infection causes a condition akin to cancer in chickens, where malignant tumors and lesions can develop.

Not only will inspectors not be required to examine the first 300 birds of each flock for signs of the disease, but processors will also be allowed to simply cut the tumors off and process the rest of the bird.

And eating meat of sub-par quality isn't the only negative outcome. Avian Leukosis is a rare but highly contagious disease that affects birds and poultry, and while it's unlikely to be transmitted from birds to humans, it isn't entirely impossible. According to Bloomberg, the indication of cross-species transmission comes from U.K. workers who were exposed to birds infected with the disease and have developed antibodies.

Parthapratim Basu, previous Chief Public Health Veterinarian for the FSIS, told Bloomberg the deregulation may be another major public health crisis waiting to happen. "A poorly regulated meat industry could very well become the source of a new epidemic," he was quoted saying.

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Mura Dominko
Mura Dominko is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!. Read more
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