(WASHINGTON)- The safety of food inspectors continues to be compromised, said the American Federation of Government Employees’ Southern Council of Food Inspectors after a recent spate of the tuberculosis germ was contracted by three United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors assigned to meat processing plants in Alabama. AFGE is requesting Congressional hearings after USDA’s failure to implement procedures to protect its inspectors.
“Both plant workers and USDA inspectors should be afforded a safe and healthy work environment,” said Stan Painter, president of the Southern Council of Food Inspectors. “We are concerned that USDA’s lack of action has put a great many people at risk of contracting and possibly passing on themselves, a very serious illness. Congress must investigate USDA’s safety policies and those at these processing plants.”
Painter is concerned with how food processing plants document the safety of its workers, who may not be subject to rigorous health screenings. While inspectors must pass a number of annual health and security screenings (physical exam, eye exam and finger printing) to maintain their employment with USDA it is not clear if food processors have the same procedures.
In recent months, three inspectors have tested negative for TB in Alabama, only to return two months later posting a positive result.
AFGE has requested from USDA that it increase health and safety requirements in plants where the TB germ has been identified. After informing USDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service about the TB dilemma, Painter was instructed by USDA to advise sick inspectors to file workers compensation claims.
According to Painter, USDA has yet to implement additional health safeguards for its inspectors.
“Our contract with USDA requires a safe work environment. Not addressing the tuberculosis issue is in violation of that contract and USDA has failed to notify inspectors of, and protect plant workers of the increasing health risks at our work sites,” said Painter.