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Get Ready for Extra Helpings of Feces, Pus and Chlorine on Your Plate — America Is Deregulating Its Meat Industry

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

 Remember in the mid-1990s when USDA began telling people to wash their cutting boards and utensils after preparing meat and always use a meat thermometer? Because US meat and poultry is so full of pathogens, if you don't kill them they might kill you? That was the beginning of the government's move to pass food safety risks on to customers, and more distressingly, to meat processors themselves. The move is continuing with new, alarming government efforts to reduce and disempower meat inspectors at slaughter plants and allow private industry to regulate itself.

In 1998, USDA rolled out its pilot HACCP system. The acronym stood for "Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points" but federal meat inspectors, industry watchers and food advocates quickly dubbed it "Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray" because it transferred oversight from the government to the plant, in shocking, industry-friendly de-regulation. HACCP was supposed to replace meat inspectors' old-fashioned "poke and sniff" method of visually examining carcasses by instituting advanced microbiology techniques. But it is also an "honors system" in which federal inspectors simply ratify that companies are following their own self-created system. As in "Trust us."

Last week, a coalition of food and worker safety advocates and allies gathered outside the White House to protest USDA's imminent plan to implement HACCP system-wide now that it has been used at pilot locations. "Instead of trained USDA inspectors, companies will police themselves," says the site of the group that organized the protest,  sumofus.org. "Plants will be allowed to speed up production dramatically. Chickens will spend more time soaking in contaminants (including pus and feces!), and poultry plants are compensating by washing them in with chlorine."

The expansion of the HACCP pilot programs, called HIMP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-Based Inspection Models Project) would cut the number of poultry inspectors while increasing the use of antimicrobial sprays to control bacteria, charges  Daily Finance. (Some call it "Spray and Pray.") It would reposition inspectors at the end of the assembly line so they could not stop the hanging of unacceptable birds, only view them as they go by. It would allow only one side of the bird to be examined, say inspectors in sworn affidavits on a  Government Accountability Project whistleblower website, a critical omission, because fecal contamination often does not show on the outside of a carcass. Birds once considered unacceptable can now end up remaining on the line, only to be dipped in disinfectants like chlorine to reduce disease risk, say food advocates.     


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