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Feds’ proposed shift in poultry rules troubling

Warning horns should blast full force around the Obama administration approving a change in federal law to replace most federal inspectors on poultry processing lines with company workers who would watch for problems. Worker advocates’ concerns that such a change would be a risk to both food and worker safety have considerable merit.

The change would enable poultry companies to speed up their processing lines, and thus increase the likelihood of more – and more serious – injuries to workers caused by repetitive hand motions. And workers who often fear for their jobs if they report problems might be more reluctant than independent federal inspectors to report defects that cause food-borne illnesses.

A 2008 Observer series about working conditions in the poultry industry highlighted the problems of allowing companies to self-report on injuries at their plants. Our series found employers failing to report injuries that they should, and workers afraid they’d be fired if they reported such injuries. This change could have both following the same pattern with troubling consequences for all of us.

North Carolina’s Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan supports the change. Richard Burr, the state’s Republican senator, has not taken a stand.

The change would increase profits for the poultry industry, a $13 billion industry in the state. Hagan says she is “confident that adequate protections are in place as poultry lines move faster.”

We’re not convinced. The proposed rule doesn’t even require that company inspectors be trained. This change would remove the little bit of oversight the federal government has. Officials need to rethink it.

Expanded foster child abuse probe is right call

It’s hardly surprising that the probe into child abuse allegations against a former Union County child protective services’ supervisor is expanding to cover all three dozen children who have been under the foster care of her and her companion. The discovery of an 11-year-old handcuffed to the porch of Wanda Larson and Dorian Harper with a dead chicken tied around his neck has rightly raised concerns about the treatment of the rest of the children in their care over the last 12 years. An investigation has uncovered reports that children at the home were malnourished and went begging for food.

In ordering the state Division of Social Services and Union and Gaston counties to turn over records to investigators, Superior Court Judge Chris Bragg acknowledged the grim possibility: “Based on the allegations of child abuse already disclosed, it is not unreasonable to believe” any or all of the 36 children may have been victims of abuse or witnessed abuse of other children.

If that proves true, it would only compound a profound failure by many adults to keep our most vulnerable citizens – children – safe from harm.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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