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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

USDA, Confusing Modernization with Privatization?

Amanda Hitt | April 11, 2016

Let’s just be clear about this. The new pork inspection model is not about modernization; it’s about privatization. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Alfred Almanza, seems to have a lot to say about modernizing the USDA’s inspection system lately. From what I’ve read, it appears that Mr. Almanza intends to expand a high-speed inspection model used in poultry into pork. He’s been touting the high-speed inspection system as “modern” and as yielding greater workplace efficiency, even stating publicly (more than once) that it “improves public health outcomes.” But what he isn’t saying is that this efficiency comes at a price – a price paid by workers, animals, and the environment. And that there are public health concerns associated with this new inspection model that have not been addressed.

What Mr. Almanza considers a modern solution is a gift to the industry that increases the volume of pigs to be slaughtered while at the same time reduces federal inspection. It doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, and I’m not the only one who sees it that way.

Hundreds of thousands of consumers, numerous NGO’s, and even members of Congress have spoken up in opposition to expanding the new inspection model into the pork industry (including urging Hormel, which has three pilot pork plants, to abandon the program). These varied groups question the high-speed model’s efficacy, but despite all the skepticism, the USDA continues to venerate the pork inspection program. Why? Because the program is a boon to the pork industry, to which the agency is increasingly beholden.

They’re giving up the keys to the castle. That’s what USDA Meat Inspectors who work in plants currently piloting the high-speed pork program are saying. In these pilot plants, highly trained federal meat inspectors are having their duties taken away from them and handed over to untrained plant workers. The accelerated speeds (at 1300 hogs per hour) make it difficult for inspectors to get a good look at carcasses, and consumers are suffering for it. Inspectors question the quality of the meat getting to grocery store shelves, and they report that they are often powerless to stop it. One inspector told GAP’s Food Integrity Campaign that the processing lines “are running so fast it is impossible to see anything on the carcass.” In fact, some inspectors won’t even eat the food that comes out of the plants that are piloting high-speed pork inspection.

So much for modern – high-speed inspection is barbaric. The drive for profit often hinders humane judgment, and plant management routinely drives workers and animals hard. A recent undercover video showing animal welfare issues at a high-speed plant makes it clear how important federal inspection is. When inspectors were out of sight, animals suffered. Beyond the oversight, the sheer volume of pigs in these plants is a recipe for workplace disaster. Breakneck line speeds and repetitive motion result in crippling worker injuries.

If the USDA wants to put a “modern” twist on its old ways, it should try something new and different – like listening to its own inspectors. Meat inspector whistleblowers have a long list of concerns about what happens when the industry is allowed to police itself, and the public is paying attention. Letting the industry inspect itself and allowing these serious threats to food integrity are far from what the modern-day consumer demands. Indeed, our government needs to catch up with the times.

 

Amanda Hitt is Director of the Food Integrity Campaign, a program of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) – the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.

3 Comments

  1. Bill Carlson says:

    It seems as if the Hormel management practices have not improved over the past eighty plus years of my life. I grew up in Nebraska among many hog farmers. I would listen to the butchering practices then. They were horrible, cruel and unsanitary. Inspection was laughable then. I can easily imagine what occurs now. The one paragraph quoted from above, “So much for modern – high-speed inspection is barbaric. The drive for profit often hinders humane judgment, and plant management routinely drives workers and animals hard. A recent undercover video showing animal welfare issues at a high-speed plant makes it clear how important federal inspection is. When inspectors were out of sight, animals suffered. Beyond the oversight, the sheer volume of pigs in these plants is a recipe for workplace disaster. Breakneck line speeds and repetitive motion result in crippling worker injuries.” is enough to tell me that things have changed only for the worst in the past fifty years since I left the area.
    It is for reasons such as this that I and my entire family have become vegetarians for our own sake of nutrition. What a major change from how I was raised. But then, we butchered at home. The animals were handled humanely out of respect. Many, many times we received high praise from friends or relatives who would share a meal or two with us. The animals had no fear when they were slaughtered because of the way we handled them. There were no massive injections of fear hormones into their meat tissues.Report

  2. Graciela Huth says:

    All our government high level employees seem to be on a race to do less of their work and use more contractors. By this I mean everybody including the majority of GOP Senators and GOP Congress persons. They do not attend meetings, they constantly are trying to cut our INSURANCE benefits into which we paid all our working life. We must be very aware of their proposals because they are all oriented towards, doing less work and having less responsibility. In this example we have the U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety that wants to get rid of the main mandate of his position, FOOD SAFETY. Strange isn’t it? If somebody else is going to do his job, what do we need him for? Oh! He plans to supervise. Is that the idea? Well, we do not need him to supervise. Mr. Alfred Almanza should start to look for another job. And given the poor job he did in his current position, he should not be legible to any retirement in the future, given that we count what we already paid him as enough compensation! My name is Graciela Huth and I am one of his employers.Report

  3. Pertti Veijalainen says:

    As the safety of pork eaters will deteriorate without any doubt under this proposed program, who in the end will be legally responsible for the situation? The eater (for his/her stupidity?), the fast food chain/restaurant, the meat producer, the sellers of the meat, the private inspectors of the producer or the USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety? Or even Tom Vilsak himself (as he should be e.g. in case of GMOs)?Report

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