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The Hill: Solutions in search of problems — USDA’s unnecessary intrusion into chicken industry

The following op-ed was originally published via The Hill on May 19, 2023.


America loves chicken. It’s healthy, delicious, sustainable and — for the moment — the most affordable protein in the meat case. The U.S. chicken industry supports millions of good paying jobs in hundreds of rural communities.

Unfortunately, some in Washington — and their allies in the trial-bar and activist boardrooms — want to make chicken less affordable. Why? A small, but vocal minority of radical activists are persistently advocating for the end of animal agriculture, even though most Americans depend on chicken as an affordable source of nutrition.

New data shows that grocery prices increased 11 percent between 2022 and 2023. Making chicken — a protein staple on which families of all income levels rely — more expensive and less available makes no sense. Sadly, for the American consumer, that is exactly what’s being proposed. And those most vulnerable would be first in line: lower income earners, children who receive free and reduced cost school meals, and needy individuals who rely on food banks to feed their families. There has never been a worse time for needless governmental regulation.

One example: To be sure, Salmonella is a potentially dangerous food-borne bacteria. Itoccurs naturally in chickens. That’s why we stress the need to always cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F and to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen. When those steps are followed, there is absolutely no danger of food-borne illness from chicken.

Chicken producers work continuously and closely with United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reduce the presence of Salmonella in and on chicken. The industry has implemented new controls and interventions and supported modernized poultry inspection. As a result, we are meeting and exceeding USDA’s rigorous food safety standards.

If chicken is safer now than it’s ever been, why do some want to abandon this approach and potentially require millions of pounds of chicken to be sent to landfills rather than dinner tables. Salmonella is not an “adulterant” in chicken, as potential new USDA guidelines suggest. It is not “added” to chicken. It occurs naturally and, through strict protocols and testing procedures, can be minimized. And Salmonella is completely destroyed when chicken is properly handled and cooked.

The Biden administration is fond of reminding all of us to “follow the science.” It’s an ironic sentiment given that we have yet to see any science underlying these proposals.

A second example of unnecessary intrusion by USDA focuses on the way chicken growers are compensated. We use what might be called a “pay for performance” system — under which farmers are financially incentivized to raise healthier birds. High performing farmers are paid better than others.