April Fools’ Day Joke? Or a Deliberate Attempt by the USDA to Fool Consumers?

March 30, 2000

April Fools’ Day Joke? Or a Deliberate Attempt by the USDA to Fool Consumers?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is playing an early April Fools’ Day joke on American consumers by once again promoting the agency’s experimental inspection program as a preventive food safety system, Public Citizen and the Government Accountability Project said today.

The pilot project shifts responsibility for ensuring that animals and carcasses destined for dinner tables are healthy from the USDA’s meat inspectors to the meat industry. This shift is done by allowing meat processing plants that volunteer to participate in the program to determine which animals and carcasses are diseased and should not be used for food. This means that USDA inspectors will closely examine only a small sample of carcasses instead of examining each carcass, as in the past. Approximately two dozen plants have volunteered to participate in the program, which began on Oct. 4, 1999.

The USDA today held another in a series of public meetings on the pilot project, called the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)-Based Inspection Models Project. At the meeting, officials promoted the project as a redeployment of resources to better address health problems.

“Once again, the USDA is pandering to the meat industry instead of protecting Americans,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project. “They call it science-based and give it a long, complex title. But that won’t fool consumers, who don’t want to eat meat contaminated with fecal matter, even if it is irradiated in an attempt to kill food-borne disease. This tomfoolery is typical of the USDA’s changes in inspecting meat, and the public won’t buy it. The agency claims it is doing it to improve safety, but this is all about maximizing profit for the meat industry.”

Added Felicia Nestor, director of the Government Accountability Project’s food safety program, “The results of the pilot project speak for themselves. Since the program’s implementation, government sampling is finding more chickens with visible fecal matter than in the past. April Fools’ Day calls for rubber chicken pranks, not dirty chickens for the public’s consumption.”

A recent incident at a Gold Kist, Inc. poultry plant in Alabama confirmed that the pilot program is problematic. Two Gold Kist plants are closely situated. One uses the old inspection system, the other the new pilot program. When meat inspectors prevented diseased chickens from being processed at the plant that has USDA meat inspectors, the slaughter plant operators sent the diseased chickens to the plant operating under the pilot project, where they were slaughtered, whistleblower inspectors have told the Government Accountability Project. The inspectors knew about this but had no authority to stop it. Some of the meat was destined for school lunches, the inspectors said.

At the second plant, the chickens were killed at the extraordinary pace of 140 birds per minute, compared to 91 birds per minute at the plant with traditional inspections. When animals are killed at that high a rate, it is hard to inspect the birds for disease and filth.

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