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USDA Inspector General: Food Safety and Humane Slaughter Laws Ignored With Impunity

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page, Food Safety Research Center page and our CAFO's vs. Free Range page.

Two weeks ago, the USDA's Office of the Inspector General released a report that, once again, proves that our food system is broken: First, FSIS doesn't meaningfully attempt to stop repeat violations of food safety laws. Second, it has allowed a 15-year-old pilot program with faster slaughter and fewer inspectors to proceed without review. Third, it all but ignores its humane slaughter mandate. Remarkably, unless you read Food Safety News or the agricultural media, you will have missed this extremely damning report.

First, FSIS' food safety oversight system in pig slaughterhouses is completely broken. Out of 44,128 identified violations of food safety laws at 616 slaughterhouses over four years, there were just 28 plant suspensions, all brief. Over these same four years, FSIS didn't reach enforcement stage 5 or 6 even once. OIG offers some stomach-turning examples of illegal activity that warranted but did not receive suspension, including:

• At a South Carolina slaughterhouse, FSIS issued more than 800 violations, including fourteen for egregious violations like "fecal contamination on a hog after the final trim," almost 100 "for exposed or possibly adulterated products that had 'grease smears' or 'black colored liquid substance' on processed meat," and 43 for "pest control problems, such as cockroaches on the kill floor." This plant was not suspended even once.

• At a Nebraska slaughterhouse, FSIS issued more than 600 violations, which included 50 repeat violations for "contaminated carcasses that included 'fecal material which was yellow [and] fibrous' on the carcass." FSIS never even reached enforcement stage three, notice of intended enforcement, let alone suspension.

• At an Illinois slaughterhouse, FSIS issued more than 500 violations, including 26 repeat violations for "fecal matter and running abscesses on carcasses." Yes, FSIS found fecal matter and running abscesses on carcasses 26 times. Nevertheless, FSIS never even got to stage three on its 6-stage plan.

Second, fifteen years ago USDA approved a "pilot program" to speed slaughter lines and reduce inspector numbers in some plants, but it never bothered to see how the program is working. Remarkably, the slaughterhouse with the most violations was such a plant, "with nearly 50 percent more [violations] than the plant with the next highest number." One of these plants doesn't even require manual inspection of viscera, a requirement at the other 615 pig slaughter plants, because "some signs of disease and contamination can be detected only through a manual inspection. Examples include ... parasites within the intestine, and inflamed or degenerated organs that are unusually sticky to the touch or excessively firm."    


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