Decades-old poultry inspections overhauled
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is overhauling poultry plant inspections for the first time in more than 50 years, a move it says could result in 5,000 fewer foodborne illnesses each year.
Final rules announced Thursday would reduce the number of government poultry inspectors. But those who remain will focus more on food safety than on quality, requiring them to pull more birds off the line for closer inspections and encouraging more testing for pathogens. More inspectors would check the facilities to make sure they are clean.
The changes would be voluntary, but many of the country’s largest poultry companies are expected to opt in. The chicken and turkey industries swiftly praised the new rules, saying they would modernize their business.
Federal law requires that government inspectors be present in poultry processing plants. Right now, many USDA inspectors stand in one place on the production line and check for visual defects. This doesn’t do much to ensure the birds are safe to eat, since common poultry pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter are invisible.
The new rules would better train inspectors to find hazards in the plant and would require all companies — whether they opt in or not — to do additional testing for pathogens.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the changes take into account current science, updating the inspection system from 1950s thinking that visual defects meant safety problems.
“This is a significant opportunity to bring the inspection system into the 21st century,” he said.
USDA originally proposed the rule in January 2012, saying the reduction in inspectors would save companies and taxpayers money while also decreasing pathogens in the food supply. Consumer groups have said an overhaul is necessary but criticized the proposal, saying it would shift too much of the inspection burden to the industry.
Those same groups expressed disappointment with the new rule, saying the decreased overall number of inspectors could endanger consumer health.
Wenonah Hauter of the advocacy group Food and Water Watch called it a “gift from the Obama administration to the industry.”
Stock market plunges amid multiple worries
NEW YORK (AP) — For stock investors, the red flags were everywhere on Thursday.
There were weak corporate results, the looming end of stimulus from the Federal Reserve and tensions between the West and Russia. On top of that, some investors feared that stocks have become too pricey after three years without a significant downturn.
The confluence of worries sent the Dow Jones industrial average tumbling more than 300 points, its worst one-day drop since February. The plunge snapped a string of five straight monthly gains, and pushed the blue-chip index to a slight loss for the year. But it wasn’t just stocks that suffered. Oil fell to its lowest level since March, gold dropped and even Treasurys edged lower.
The stock market fell in early trading after a dose of bad earnings news, and the losses accelerated throughout the day. Whole Foods Market and Exxon Mobil sparked the selling after their quarterly results late Wednesday disappointed investors. Yum Brands, the owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, slumped after it said its earnings would be crimped by a food safety scandal in China that involved repacked meat.
Also driving the downturn were concerns that the Fed could raise short-term interests faster than expected because of a rebound in U.S. growth during the spring.
The stock market has climbed nearly 200 percent since March 2009, with the most recent leg of that surge pushing the Standard &Poor’s 500 index to an all-time high a week ago. The S&P 500 hasn’t suffered a sell-off severe enough to qualify as a correction, Wall Street parlance for a fall of 10 percent or more from a peak, since October 2011.
Immigration courts speed children’s cases
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Immigration courts are speeding up hearings for the tens of thousands of Central American children caught on the U.S. border after criticism that the backlogged system is letting immigrants stay in the country for years while waiting for their cases to be heard.
There are 375,000 cases before the immigration courts, and many immigrants wait months or years for a hearing. Instead of bumping children to the back of that long line, the courts are now giving each child an initial court hearing within three weeks, according to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. A spokeswoman for the courts said no data was immediately available on how many children’s hearings had been set under the new plan.
Immigration lawyers have long sought a speedier process to prevent immigrants from having to wait years for an answer on their asylum or green card applications. Now, the concern is the opposite: that the courts are moving so quickly that the children might not have enough time to make a case that they should be allowed to remain in the country legally.
The biggest worry is that children might not receive proper notice of hearings, and they could wind up getting a deportation order if they fail to show up, immigration lawyers said.