Wholesome Poultry Products Act Is Passed Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The federal Wholesome Poultry Products Act required uniform standards for poultry inspection and extended requirements to establishments such as companies that provide poultry products for vending machines.

Summary of Event

The Wholesome Poultry Products Act, passed on August 18, 1968, stipulates that poultry and poultry products must meet federal inspection standards. Prior to passage of this act, poultry processing plants were regulated by states or not at all. Poultry inspection processes varied among states, resulting in some plants having modern equipment and sanitary conditions and other plants being less well equipped. Wholesome Poultry Products Act (1968) Food;government regulation Poultry Agricultural policy;United States [kw]Wholesome Poultry Products Act Is Passed (Aug. 18, 1968) [kw]Poultry Products Act Is Passed, Wholesome (Aug. 18, 1968) Wholesome Poultry Products Act (1968) Food;government regulation Poultry Agricultural policy;United States [g]North America;Aug. 18, 1968: Wholesome Poultry Products Act Is Passed[09890] [g]United States;Aug. 18, 1968: Wholesome Poultry Products Act Is Passed[09890] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Aug. 18, 1968: Wholesome Poultry Products Act Is Passed[09890] [c]Health and medicine;Aug. 18, 1968: Wholesome Poultry Products Act Is Passed[09890] [c]Agriculture;Aug. 18, 1968: Wholesome Poultry Products Act Is Passed[09890] [c]Trade and commerce;Aug. 18, 1968: Wholesome Poultry Products Act Is Passed[09890] Freeman, Orville L. Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;consumer rights

The poultry act requires that processors who prepare poultry and producers of foods containing poultry that are transported for sale across a state line must meet federal inspection standards and are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Department of Agriculture, U.S. . The U.S. secretary of agriculture at the time of the act’s passage was Orville L. Freeman. Establishments that prepare or produce poultry for intrastate transport fall under the jurisdiction of state inspection. This act extended coverage of federal poultry inspection standards to establishments that had not previously been covered and provided a model for establishing inspection programs at the state level.

The objective of the act was to ensure uniform inspection across all states in the United States to increase consumer protection. Most poultry and poultry products produced in the United States move across state lines or through foreign commerce, so uniform standards among states are warranted. The act stipulates that

it is essential in the public interest that the health and welfare of consumers be protected by assuring that poultry products distributed to them are wholesome, not adulterated, and properly marked, labeled, and packaged.

The Wholesome Poultry Products Act followed the Wholesome Meat Act Wholesome Meat Act (1967) , passed in 1967. A consumer rights movement Consumer rights had increased Americans’ awareness of potential health and safety risks of meat-based food products. Consumer advocates and President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly supported improvements in inspection standards for food products in the United States. Once the Wholesome Meat Act was passed, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters joined with some members of Congress in requesting the poultry act. The meat cutters acted in part because they did not want to face regulation stricter than that applied to poultry processors. Later, a seafood act was introduced to complete consumer protection from animal foods.

Attention has been given to the safety of the practices of the meat processing industry since publication of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle (1906). That book alerted consumers to concerns about the safety of meat processing. The first law governing meat inspection, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, was implemented in 1907 as a direct result of Sinclair’s book. Criticism of inspection practices of the 1960’s may have led consumers to believe that conditions were still similar to those in the early years of the twentieth century. A resurgence in interest in food safety by policy makers led to the 1960’s revisions of the meat act and the introduction of related acts, including the Wholesome Poultry Products Act.

Widespread consumer concern about the safety of the meat and poultry products available at supermarkets, commissaries, and delicatessens had the potential to substantially affect consumption. Because of the potential negative impact from consumer uneasiness, it was important to successfully implement the new poultry inspection standards to restore consumer confidence in poultry products and to avoid substantial losses to producers of poultry and related foods.

Poultry products include, in addition to fresh and frozen whole poultry and poultry pieces, canned and frozen foods containing poultry. The frozen foods industry had expanded by the 1960’s to include prepared casseroles, dinners, entrées, hors d’oeuvres, pizzas, pot pies, and sauces. Also included in the 1968 Wholesome Poultry Products Act, and not previously included in standard inspections, were vending commissaries that prepare poultry products for off-premise sale. A commissary preparing such food items as casseroles, entrées, platters, and salads containing poultry was required to meet federally approved inspection guidelines throughout the facility.

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (1966) of 1966 was primarily targeted at nonfood items typically sold in grocery stores, but food and beverage packaging was affected by regulations for product weights or measures and manufacturer address requirements on packages. The Wholesome Poultry Products Act in some respects is an extension of the packaging and labeling act. The poultry act requires that packaging be safe and free of contamination and that the poultry products being sold be represented accurately on the packaging. Specifically, labeling must not be false or misleading in terms of the origin of the poultry product, the quantity of the poultry product, or any additional ingredients to poultry offered in the package. Ingredients must be listed in order of quantity. Additionally, poultry packaging must disclose the name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor. All required information must be placed on the package in a prominent place where the consumer is likely to read it.

The inherent nature of poultry is such that bacteria are easily bred when processing conditions are less than optimal. Under the act, inspections must be set up to detect disease or other types of contamination in poultry. When poultry products are condemned because of contamination or disease, the specific reason for condemnation must be scientifically presented. The act states that adulterated poultry, which cannot be legally sold, is defined as containing additives that are unsafe as defined by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (1938) ; containing any poisonous substances; consisting of decomposed, unhealthful, or unwholesome substances; or having been exposed to radiation. Further, poultry processed under unsanitary conditions that may cause contamination is considered to be adulterated.

To reduce the chance of adulteration to poultry, federal standards were mandated for buildings that house meat and poultry packers, including preparers of frozen foods containing meats and poultry. The standards include specifications for plumbing and sewers, water quality, water temperatures, detergents for washing utensils, ceiling and floor surfaces, room sizes, lighting, and worker uniforms. These specifications were created primarily to increase the cleanliness of processing plants.

The secretary of agriculture or his or her delegate is authorized to enforce the Wholesome Poultry Products Act. As a result of the act, the Consumer Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided training programs for state inspectors so that they would become familiar with federal standards and be able to implement uniform inspections. Each state was given two years after passage of the act to establish inspection programs. An additional one-year grace period could be granted to states making progress toward implementation. Penalties for noncompliance include an exclusion of the state from interstate commerce of poultry and poultry products as well as monetary fines.


In response to the inclusion of commissaries under the jurisdiction of the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967, the National Automatic Merchandising Association formed a Meat Inspection Committee. This committee worked with state agencies and the Department of Agriculture to establish standard guidelines that would logically apply to commissaries, which differ substantially from slaughterhouses. The Meat Inspection Committee continued to work as the Wholesome Poultry Products Act was implemented.

Because most consumers in the United States obtain their poultry and poultry products from supermarkets or other retail establishments, the Wholesome Poultry Products Act of 1968 affects the purchasing confidence of many people. Exempted from the act are people who raise and slaughter poultry exclusively for their own use or who custom slaughter for people who have delivered poultry and will retrieve it for their own use. It would be virtually impossible to routinely inspect all small slaughterhouses such as these. Because inspections are not required and standards equal to those for commercial distribution need not be met, there is a greater chance that poultry processed in these slaughterhouses will not be safe.

Labeling requirements are waived for deliveries to certain consumers. For example, wholesale distribution directly to restaurants and hotels for use in their dining rooms is exempted, with the provision that the poultry is sound and healthy. The labeling exemptions eliminate burdens from industries that would not present packaging to the ultimate consumer for examination.

The cost of the poultry act to the federal government is substantial. According to the act, the federal government provides half of the costs for establishing inspection training programs for the states. The states are individually responsible for the other half of training expenses. Traditionally, the federal government has provided inspectors free of cost to plants, a practice that is being continued by states. Although the initial costs of implementation of the act were substantial, the trade-off in consumer confidence has the potential to offset the costs. As a result of the act, consumers are provided with more information about sanitary plant conditions, poultry quality, and specific product contents. This increased confidence in proper information and healthy conditions often leads to increased purchases and feelings of goodwill toward retailers of poultry.

Uniformity among poultry producers, processors, and retailers was expected to be achieved as inspection standards from state to state were homogenized. Implementation, however, proved to be a monumental task. Even though it would appear to be economically beneficial to leave the inspection process to federal representatives, the autonomous nature of states and industries provided motivation for them to become involved in the training of inspectors and the implementation of the act. By the original deadline for state implementation of federally approved poultry inspectors, forty-nine states had been granted a one-year extension, as they were making good progress toward meeting designated standards. North Dakota, the only state not to be given an extension, was notified by the Department of Agriculture that its progress toward an inspection program was not well enough under way, and federal inspectors were given jurisdiction to take over the regulation process there.

In actions related to the Wholesome Poultry Products Act, engineers were hired to redesign plants, plumbing and sewage facilities were updated and improved, and water treatment and purification systems were designed. All these changes have resulted in cleaner plants, safer poultry treatment, and better working conditions in poultry houses.

One of the biggest challenges after enactment of the act was to set into practice the authority of the Department of Agriculture to regulate the conditions of the act. Largely because poultry consumers receive access to information about the origins of the products they purchase, poultry houses were eager to comply with regulations and maintain positive public images. Although inspection processes are not foolproof, there are established practices to be followed by inspectors and plant operators so that safe poultry and poultry products will be delivered to supermarkets and served in commissaries. Wholesome Poultry Products Act (1968) Food;government regulation Poultry Agricultural policy;United States

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barbut, Shai. Poultry Products Processing: An Industry Guide. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2002. A guide for the poultry industry that provides a glimpse into federal regulations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Frozen Prepared Foods Must Meet Federal Inspection Standards.” Quick Frozen Foods 32 (February, 1970): 125-126. Discusses standards imposed as a result of the poultry act, particularly those specific to prepared frozen foods.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hartley, David E. “NAMA Meat Inspection Guidelines: Commissaries, Labeling, and the Law.” Vend 24 (February 1, 1970): 23-26. Discusses key effects of the act on commissaries. Also discusses questions about the purposes, jurisdiction, implementation, and costs of the act.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Status Report: State-Federal Meat and Poultry Inspection.” Vend 23 (December 1, 1969): 39-40. A member of the public health council for the National Automatic Merchandising Association provides an update on implementation of the act and addresses the impact of the act on commissaries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Horowitz, Roger. Putting Meat on the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. An engaging, well-written work on the cultural, economic, and industrial history of meat (including poultry) production, distribution, and consumption in the United States. Well-illustrated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Semling, Harold V., Jr. “Congress Seeks Stronger Poultry Inspection Law.” Food Processing-Marketing 29 (February, 1968): 85. This article, written prior to the passage of the act, discusses the forces behind the act’s introduction.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. 1906. Reprint. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2004. Sinclair’s novel is credited with alerting the public to unsanitary practices in meat preparation and processing. As a result of information disclosed in this book, the first legislation governing meat processing was introduced and passed.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Meat and Poultry Inspection Regulations. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2004. A 748-page federal government guide to the regulations covering the inspection of meats, including poultry.

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