Monday, December 9, 2013

Pilot Pork Inspection Program Hits Snags

The idea for the program sounded promising: If plants hired their own quality-assurance officers to sort out diseased carcasses and parts before they reached government inspectors, then, proponents theorized, there would be fewer carcasses for the USDA to inspect and reject. This weed-out of diseased animals earlier in the process would reduce the chance of food contamination; it would also allow plants the flexibility to devise their own inspection processes, rather than adhering to rigid cookie-cutter requirements; and, best of all, these efficiencies would streamline production, reducing the cost of pork for consumers.
Almost from the moment the program was fully implemented in 2003, the participating meatpackers saw huge benefits. In 2004, Excel and Hatfield achieved the largest production increases (measured by total number of swine) of any two packers in the U.S. The other three plants accelerated production for Hormel—not just at the official Hormel plant in Fremont, but also at QPP, which bills itself as a “custom packer” for Hormel, and at Farmer John, which Hormel purchased at the end of 2004. Thus, for the last decade, Hormel’s three cut-and-kill operations—the plants that supply all 9.4 million hogs annually for its operation nationwide—have been among these select five plants that have profited from dramatically increased line speeds.
But if packers have been delighted by the increased output, workers’ rights advocates say that runaway production increases have also jeopardized safety...Equally troubling, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General has raised concerns that faster line speeds could compromise food safety. In May, the OIG released a report finding enforcement of protocols at the five pilot plants was so lax that between 2008 and 2011 three ranked among the top 10 violators of food safety requirements. That’s out of 616 pork-packing plants nationwide. As recently as last year, inspectors at the five test plants found hog carcasses bound for processing with lesions from tuberculosis, septic arthritis (with bloody fluid pouring from joints), and fecal smears. The OIG’s assessment warned that “recurring, severe violations may jeopardize public health.”
Wait, self-regulation might not be working?  Companies get richer, but workers and the public face greater danger?  No, not in an unregulated market.  Seriously, who is surprised by the outcome of this pilot program.  As the article goes on to say.  A similar program is going into effect across the poultry industry, and watchdog groups fear the pork pilot program will be expanded to the entire industry.

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