Do You Eat Chicken Government Cutting Back On Inspections

Dave Johnson

To “save money” the government is letting poultry companies do “voluntary” inspections. So guess what happens? Hint: the same thing that always happens when you let profit-seeking companies police themselves. Seriously, what do you think is going to happen? One government agency might “save money” but the rest of the government and We, the People will pay for it, and pay for it, and then pay for it again.

Cutting Back On Things We, The People Do For Each Other

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is cutting back. They are trying out a “voluntary” system called HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) that lets company employees of the for-profit companies do the inspections instead of USDA inspectors. In Budget cuts as back-door deregulation at the Washington Post, Dana Milbank explains,

Think the Obama administration has been strangling businesses with red tape?

Well, that’s a load of chicken droppings.

Those who say we’re being regulated into a state of European socialism might wish to consult with some of the federal poultry inspectors who assembled Monday morning outside the Agriculture Department. They were protesting a proposal to allow chicken slaughterhouses to inspect themselves — eliminating those pesky federal monitors who have the annoying habit of taking diseased birds out of the food supply.

Milbank gets to why this is happening — budget cuts,

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said at Monday’s protest that he spoke with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the change in poultry inspections. “He said it’s budget cuts — we have to do it,” Gage claimed. And he’s hearing the same justification for reduced regulations across the federal government. “We’re going to see it in the Bureau of Prisons, in Social Security, in the VA — across the board,” Gage said.

Rachel Cernansky writes at Grist, in Industrial poultry about to get even crappier — literally,

Under the current rules, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for inspecting all chicken and turkey carcasses for things like bruises, bile, and yes, shit, before they’re sent for further processing. The proposed HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) would remove those USDA inspectors from the lines, leaving poultry plant employees, who already stand in a fast-moving, I-Love-Lucy-style line, to flag unsanitary or otherwise flawed birds.

[. . .] In an analysis of a HIMP pilot program, Food and Water Watch found that rushed poultry plant inspectors allowed a shocking number of problems through, including defective and unsanitary birds. The USDA provided, in response to a FOIA request, thousands of pages of documents that revealed:

  • The inspection category that had the highest error rate was for dressing defects such as feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass. The average error rate for this category in the chicken slaughter facilities was 64 percent and 87 percent in turkey slaughter facilities.
  • The overwhelming number of non-compliance records filed was for fecal contamination. From March to August 2011, 90 percent were for visible fecal contamination.
  • One notable [non-compliance report] read, “I observed a section of intestine wrapped around the rotating paddles in the neck chiller. The intestine was approximately 1 1/2 feet in length, contained fecal material. Additionally, numerous other pieces [of] digestive tract materials, such as chicken crops and esophagus were also observed.”
  • The Results Are In

    Food & Water Watch discusses what happened in a test of this program, in Privatized Poultry Inspection: USDA’s Pilot Project Results,

    The USDA has been running a pilot project called … (HIMP) in two-dozen slaughter facilities since 1998. The majority of these plants are young chicken slaughter plants, but there are also turkey and market hog slaughter plants included in the pilot. In the chicken plants, line speeds have been permitted to run faster than other poultry slaughter plants. In HIMP plants, company employees perform inspections that used to be performed by USDA inspectors.

    OK, company employees are allowed to do the inspections instead of USDA government inspectors. See if you can guess the results. Right.

    (Septicemia, toxemia.)
    (Fecal contamination.)
    The list of diseases includes cadaver birds (those that were dead before being processed in the plant), tumors, and pneumonia.
    The list of conditions includes blisters, bruises, external mutilation, fractures, sores, and scabs.

    OK there’s more but you get the picture and I’m getting sick.

    The website Let Them Eat Chicken hopes to “raise awareness of a regulation proposed by Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service that will partially privatize the poultry inspections process and drastically increase the number of birds federal inspectors must examine.”

    From the website, inspectors tell their stories:

    “I have worked as an inspector with USDA, FSIS for more than 30 years. This whole idea of the plant employees making decisions is unreal. Before working for the USDA I worked in a pork plant and a beef plant for the company on the slaughter line. I know what the industry is capable of and how they operate. They can be sneaky trying to avoid losing money. No matter if it is a slaughter plant or processing plant, the company has control over what their employees do and don’t do. If they don’t listen, they will just find someone else off the street who will.

    I have worked as an inspector for 26 years and I can tell you from experience that while the plants talk a good game about food safety, when it comes right down to a choice between production and yield numbers and food safety and quality, production and yield comes first! They will cut corners and ignore obvious problems in food safety if they are behind due to break downs in equipment or if they have more production to do than they can do before the end of the shift. Even now at 35 poultry carcasses per minute per inspector, we only have a bit over a second and a half to inspect the carcass which is too fast and this rule will increase speeds. What is the sense in that?

    It is not an easy job. At times (it is) very demanding. Sometimes the birds have a lot of pathology. A trained eyed and a professional person is needed to make sure a healthy bird leaves the facility. Please keep these people in there positions to ensure public health and safety.

    A Very Low Standard – Will It Kill You?

    From the Grist story,

    As gross as all this shit-in-the-meat talk may be, it’s not just for shock value. It’s a matter of food safety. As Hitt puts it: “[Food inspectors] used to ask, ‘Would I put that on my family’s table?’ That was the standard. Now the standard is, ‘Will it kill you?’”

    You can leave a comment at regulations.gov, letting them know what You, the People think of this.

    And go visit Let Them Eat Chicken.

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