Has the Department of Agriculture gotten the hint yet?
It's 2012 and the Agency is trying to impose the same process with poultry inspection that it tried and failed to do with beef inspection two decades ago.
In the late 1980s, USDA meat inspector Steve Cockerham exposed the problems he witnessed at a Nebraska slaughterhouse that was trying out a new "Streamlined Inspection System" - one that greatly sped up the beef production process. Ring a bell?
GAP helped Cockerham air his concerns (e.g. skipped sterilization steps, carcasses falling on the floor, and hydraulic fluid dripping all over the beef and workers) on NBC's Today Show. Similarly, last month, GAP helped an anonymous USDA poultry inspector (who works at a pilot HIMP plant with faster line speeds) voice concerns on ABC News. Our inspector whistleblower explained that, not only are there faster line speeds, but also fewer inspectors with less authority to pull potentially contaminated product. That means lower quality and less safe food for consumers!
USDA, under the persistent guise of "modernization," seems to have forgotten (or hope the public has forgotten, at least) about its previous failed deregulation attempts of meat inspection.
Before public comment on USDA's proposed poultry rule closed Tuesday, FIC submitted (in the official comments) all seven whistleblower affidavits that we collected from federal inspectors with firsthand knowledge of the HIMP system – explaining why it's a threat to public health and why a poultry modernization rule based on HIMP is a bad idea. Along with the affidavits, FIC submitted our collected petition signatures – to remind the Agency that the public feels that handing over inspection duties to industry is not acceptable. Thanks again to all of the petitioners who signed!
Negative public reaction to one meat inspector's story back in 1989 effectively moved the USDA to abandon its streamlined meat inspection system. Hopefully, our efforts to share the concerns of current USDA poultry inspectors and whistleblowers will once again make it clear that the Agency’s attempt to increase industry profits isn’t in line with food integrity.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.