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Meat Inspection Act Turns 106, Finds Itself in the Crosshairs

July 2, 2012

Meat Inspection Act Turns 106, Finds Itself in the Crosshairs

Public Citizen Urges the Obama Administration to Uphold Key Safeguards and Improve Food and Workplace Safety Instead of Turning Back the Clock

For the past 106 years, the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) has helped enable all Americans to enjoy meat and poultry safely in their homes. New regulations like those coming out of last year’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are intended to make our meat even safer.

But now, the Obama administration has placed the Meat Inspection Act in the regulatory crosshairs by trying to let poultry companies conduct their own inspections of chickens and pushing to dramatically boost the number of birds that workers must process each hour.

“This is the opposite of progress,” Keith Wrightson, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division said. “Instead of undercutting a critical act, we should be pushing for the stronger FSMA regulations that go the extra mile for protecting consumers.”

The administration’s proposed rule would allow plants to increase line speeds from 91 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. Similar increases in line speeds have a long history of dire consequences in the workplace.

“By increasing the speed of the labor process, employers can expect higher rates of injuries and a higher turnover of employees who cannot handle harsher working conditions,” Wrightson said. “The danger to our nation’s workers is clear.”

During the Progressive Era, President Theodore Roosevelt sent a team of inspectors to Chicago’s meatpacking industry in response to Upton Sinclair’s graphic novel The Jungle. Sinclair’s famous account depicts the gruesome conditions inside of meatpacking facilities. After the inspectors reported deplorable conditions, Congress passed the FMIA, which Roosevelt signed into law on June 30, 1906. Strong regulations to implement the law followed.

Given the results of the FMIA and many other consumer safeguards, the Obama administration should trumpet the message that our nation’s regulations are critical because they protect people from harm, contaminated food, financial collapse, and polluted air and water.

“When it comes to protection, the public deserves our federal agency’s full attention and the strongest possible safeguards,” said Lisa Gilbert, acting director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “We should be moving forward to create the long-delayed Food Safety Modernization Act rules, not turning back the clock by endangering workers and consumers of poultry. We expect better.”