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Austin Daily Herald: Hormel called out over high-speed production; Meat inspectors say process more likely to cause contamination

February 11, 2015

By TREY MEWES

Meat inspectors are speaking out against a high-speed pork production program used by several Hormel Foods Corp. factories.

The Government Accountability Project released four affidavits from working and recently retired meat inspectors on Monday, all of whom denounced a Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points project for increasing the contamination in meat products.

“It’s just not working,” said Amanda Hitt, director of GAP’s Food Integrity Campaign. “It works for profit but it doesn’t work for public health. People will suffer in the long run for this model.”

Under the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), pork production moves about 20 percent faster, but inspectors say they are far more likely to find contaminants such as animal feces, bladder stems, hair, toenails, cystic kidneys and more.

Hormel representatives defended the program in a statement Wednesday.

“We have been a leader in the production of safe, quality food for more than 100 years,” the statement said. “Hormel Foods stands behind its products.”

Three out of five plants using HIMP are affiliated with Hormel, including Quality Pork Processors Inc. in Austin. Hormel representatives say company employees are helping inspectors monitor meat on the production line.

According to Hormel, HIMP oversight has been more efficient and effective in plants, places more accountability on the company and allows the company to partner better with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Yet inspectors say the employees they’ve worked with aren’t properly trained to inspect meat. Recently retired inspector Joe Ferguson, who used to work for QPP, said in his affidavit QPP employees didn’t know how to properly cure defective meat or detect potentially harmful diseases.

“Personally, I will not eat any products that bear the name of the company for which this meat is produced — I don’t think that it is wholesome or safe to consume,” Ferguson, who was a meat inspector for more than 23 years, wrote.

Ferguson and other meat inspectors said their ability to stop production has been diminished thanks to HIMP. What’s more, they accuse the USDA of not properly gathering data on the project and allowing serious food safety violations to occur.

“The swine HIMP program is out of control and it is a sham the career bureaucrats have drafted to get rid of inspectors,” Ferguson wrote. “FSIS hierarchy is in bed with the regulated industry. The companies are now calling the shots. Pretty soon the agency will have no authority.”

Hormel representatives say USDA protocols require periodic sampling for microorganisms of concern and Hormel-affiliated facilities consistently meet or perform better than USDA standards.

Hitt said the Food Integrity Campaign will mount a massive effort to ask Hormel to stop using HIMP at its facilities. The campaign has already created a petition at change.org to get the company to stop high-speed production.

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