Lack of federal poultry regulation will harm animals, workers and consumers

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Jessica Jewell
Daily Sundial

 

The USDA put its plans on hold to allow time for more public comment after public outcry erupted over concerns of sanitation and worker safety over a USDA proposal to pull federal line inspectors out of poultry slaughterhouses, handing over the job almost entirely to chicken companies.

A brilliant idea — take the watchdogs out of the equation and let the crooked, greedy companies regulate themselves! Don’t just remove the watchdogs, but allow production to increase exponentially and have only one inspector looking at over triple the amount of birds seen by four inspectors in the past. Doesn’t that sound safe? Piece of cake. Who’s hungry?

The Poultry Site, a leading news outlet covering the poultry industry, shared some alarming information about the public health issues chicken farming presents.

“A 2009 USDA study found that 87 percent of chicken carcasses tested positive for e. coli after chilling and just prior to packaging,” the Poultry Site said. “Every year, contaminated poultry products cause approximately 1.5 million illnesses, 12,000 hospitalizations and 180 deaths. However, most people eating cooked chicken feces have no symptoms and are unaware of what they have ingested.”

A whistleblower within the USDA tipped off ABC’s Jim Avila about this controversial new policy.  In his report, Avila interviewed a USDA meat inspector and union representative Stan Planter.

“This is huge,” Planter said. “The plants inspecting themselves is going to be a dramatic change.”

The government is looking to enact new budget measures that would virtually double production at these facilities. As it is, four inspectors look at about 35 birds per minute, but with the new practice, only one inspector would be on duty to look at 175 birds per minute. Their job is to spot out residual fecal matter in the body cavity of the carcass, look for legions, wounds and feathers; all very important to look out for as it protects the public from contracting diseases like salmonella.

“The change is projected to phase out 800 inspection jobs, and save around $95 million over three years,” the ABC  report stated.
The Huffington Post wrote a damning article explaining the consequences of this plan.

“In HIMP plants (poultry factory farms), there is only one inspector assigned to each slaughter line. Inspectors have told us that some plants in the pilot program have assembly lines where 200 birds whiz by per minute … The agency readily admits that the poultry industry will stand to earn an additional $260 million per year by removing the cap on line speeds.”

The worker explained the companies will simply douse the birds with more cleaning chemicals like chlorine to pass inspection tests: yet another shining example of prioritizing productivity over integrity. Am I surprised? Not so much.

The USDA argues that pathogens like salmonella can’t be seen with the naked eye, so to have inspectors at these facilities is a waste of resources. A USDA official in the ABC report said they want to place more people in labs to test for disease, but there are no concrete plans in place.

A piece released by the Center for Food Safety explained why the public is concerned with this proposed change.

“Under traditional inspection methods, inspectors can see all sides (and the inside) of the bird. But inspectors at HIMP plants can only see the backside of the bird — not the front (where the breast meat is) that may clearly show tumors or scabs. Nor can HIMP inspectors see the inside of the bird, where fecal matter and other disease causing abnormalities are found.”
The factory farming industry already has a bad reputation for a plethora of insidious practices.

Meat packers and people working in slaughterhouses suffer from injuries, musculoskeletal issues, including carpal tunnel as a result of the repetitive movements the job demands, and often are victims of dismemberment from the dangerous equipment.

“In early 2005, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled ‘Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants’ which concluded that the working conditions in America’s meat packing plants were so bad they violated basic human and worker rights. This was the first time the human rights organization had criticized a single a U.S. industry,” a 2006 report by PBS said.

The industry is also infamous for employing undocumented people from all over the world including Latin America, Asia and Africa.

“The workers who face these hazards are, increasingly, immigrants, most from Mexico and Central America, but also from many other parts of the world,” according to  a 2005 Washington Post report. “Companies exploit their vulnerabilities: limited English skills; uncertainty about their rights; alarm about their immigration status if they are undocumented workers.”

Additionally, factory farms produce immense amounts of waste and are one of the major contributors to greenhouse gases. The pollution from the animal excrement and chemicals used in the facility are incredibly harmful to the environment and are a health hazard.

People in America eat over 80 pounds of chicken per capita, more than any other meat including pork and beef. How unsettling is it for consumers to know that corners are being cut for the sake of profit at the expense of their health and the safety of line workers? The USDA showing the public once again that it is very much a crony of the industrial agricultural system bent on greed at any cost: torturing animals; splicing and dicing their DNA; shoving them into tiny containers to be trampled to death by their cage mates; filthy conditions; stuffed with GMO sludge and passed down to the consumer for a bargain! At what cost will this broken system keep going, destroying the planet and spreading chronic illnesses at pandemic proportions across the country.


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