Who has an interest in our food supply and the way the USDA is (and is not) looking out for consumers?
We’ve received messages from a group pushing a petition through Change.org to get the government to stop high speed meat inspections.
Assignment: Look into allegations from the Food Integrity Campaign that Hormel and other meat processors are taking dangerous risks in Minnesota and elsewhere with casual, high speed processing.
Here’s a press release from the Food Integrity Campaign:
Hope all is well. I’m Communications Manager at the Food Integrity Campaign (a program of national whistleblower protection organization, the Government Accountability Project), and was wondering if you had any interest in covering disclosures we’ve received from USDA inspector whistleblowers regarding the agency’s high-speed hog inspection program. It’s been piloted in five plants (including three owned by Minnesota-based Hormel) and inspectors who’ve worked there have raised concerns about high speeds (83 pounds of pork whizzing by every second) and deregulation – causing signs of contamination being routinely missed (such as hair, toenails, feces, cystic kidneys, etc.) and entering the food supply. See our press release below for more information and let me know if there’s any interest in reporting this public health issue.
Communications Manager, Food Integrity Campaign
Government Accountability Project
1612 K St. NW, Washington D.C. 20006
Phone: 202-457-0034 ext. 130
January 30, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Inspectors Warn Against USDA’s High-Speed Hog Inspection Program
(Washington, DC) – Today, the Food Integrity Campaign (FIC, a program of the Government Accountability Project) is releasing evidence it has gathered from federal meat inspector whistleblowers who currently work at pork processing plants participating in a high-speed inspection pilot program. These whistleblowers voice concerns regarding the program and warn about the potential public health implications if this plan is instituted on a national level.
FIC is making publicly available affidavits from four U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors that illustrate serious concerns with the agency pilot program that increases the speed of processing lines and reduces the number of trained USDA inspection personnel in the hog plants.
FIC Director, Amanda Hitt, stated:
The USDA already refused to listen to its own inspectors when it implemented a similar high-speed inspection program for poultry late last year. Now the agency is poised to reduce oversight and increase line speeds at plants with hogs. It’s become abundantly clear that the Department of Agriculture is not interested in listening to the food safety concerns voiced by its own staff. Since the government doesn’t wish to heed whistleblowers, we are urging pork producers to reject sub-par meat inspection that places profit before public health.
FIC has launched a Change.org petition <https://www.change.org/p/stop-high-speed-inspection-model-from-expanding-to-the-pork-industry> urging Hormel, one of the largest pork producers in the United States, to abandon its use of high-speed inspection. The company owns three out of five hog plants currently participating in USDA’s pilot program.
USDA inspectors stationed at the Hormel pilot plants have informed FIC that the high-speed inspection model will lead to more contaminated and defective products on consumers’ plates. Some of the problems that inspector affidavits raise include:
- Plant employees take over the duties of government inspectors. While federal employees (including at USDA) have whistleblower protections and can speak on behalf of the plant workers, Hormel employees are in the private sector and have inadequate legal safeguards. They cannot safely report food safety problems or stop the lines without fear of retaliation.
- Line speeds at pilot plants run up to 20 percent faster than those at plants operating under traditional inspection. Quicker speeds make it even more difficult for plant employees and USDA inspectors to detect contamination on carcasses.
- Company employees lack adequate training and often fail to identify signs of defects and contamination that could result in foodborne illness or unwholesome products. Inspectors in pilot plants report a higher level of zero-tolerance food safety hazards compared to plants operating under traditional inspection.
- USDA inspectors are only allowed to conduct inspections on a small sample of hogs. Samples in these plants are not representative, and don’t reflect true pathogen risk.
The affidavits released today can be found at FoodWhistleblower.org/StopHighSpeedHogs <http://www.foodwhistleblower.org/campaign/hormel-hogs/#affidavits> .
The names of three of the inspectors, and all identifying information of the specific plants, have been redacted at the request of the inspectors. However, these affidavits have the full backing and endorsement of FIC.
Direct Quotes from USDA Inspectors
– There aren’t enough eyes on the line to monitor carcasses coming by at such high speeds. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #1)
– On numerous occasions I witnessed them [company inspectors] fail to spot abscesses, lesions, fecal matter, and other defects that would render an animal unsafe or unwholesome. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #1)
– When USDA loses the authority to make plant employees engage in corrective actions, the program stops working. This is what has happened at the plant where I work. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #2)
– Other contamination such as hair, toenails, cystic kidneys, and bladder stems has increased under HIMP [pilot program]. Line speeds don’t make it any easier to detect contamination. Most of the time they are running so fast it is impossible to see anything on the carcass. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #2)
– When HIMP was originally implemented, I had high hopes that the program would improve food safety. Over the past few years, I have learned that is not the case. Instead it seems like it is just the USDA’s way of catering to the industry instead of the consumer. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #2)
– The company threatens plant employees with terminations if they see them condemning too many carcasses or carcass parts. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #3)
– It seems like the USDA is doing all it can to make sure the HIMP program succeeds in this plant, even if it means betraying consumers by hiding the truth about their food. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #3)
– It’s no longer meaningful for consumers to see that mark indicating that their product has been USDA-inspected. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #3)
– Food safety has gone down the drain under HIMP. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #3)
– 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. (Joe Ferguson, Affidavit #4)
– After working in this plant for more than ten years, I definitely do not support its expansion to the rest of the industry. (Joe Ferguson, Affidavit #4)
Contact: Sarah Damian, Communications Manager
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 130
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>
Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.