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Metal Shards and Much Worse In Your Food? What Happens When the Food Industry Regulates Itself

In a move that may prove deadly for workers and consumers, the federal government is washing its hands of slaughterhouse inspection and encouraging industry self-regulation.

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When mad cow disease was first a US threat in 1991, Friedlander says a USDA official told him not to say anything if he ever discovered a case and said he knew of cows who had tested positive at private laboratories but were ruled negative by the USDA. Friedlander told  United Press International that the USDA attempted to force him out after he alleged, on national TV, that meat from downer cows supplied the national school lunch program. His charge proved true, and led to the  biggest meat recall in US history.

National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the union that represents meat and poultry inspectors in federally regulated slaughterhouses, also spoke out about mad cow disease risks.  In a letter to the USDA in 2004, the union said that cattle parts that could give humans the disease were “being allowed into the production chain.” Heads and carcasses of cattle over 30 months old sailed through slaughter and processing lines, said the whistle-blowing inspectors. “We couldn’t determine that every part out of there was from a cow under 30 months,” said Stan Painter, the union’s chairman, to MSNBC. “There was no way to determine which one was which.” Inspectors were “told not to intervene” when kidneys from older animals were sent down the line to be packed for the Mexican market, which prohibited cows over 30 months, the union charged. Cows younger than 30 months were considered to pose less mad cow disease risk to humans.

Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors in the Department of Agriculture have traditionally been responsible for a plant’s compliance with the Federal Meat Inspection Act (or Poultry Products Inspection Act or the Egg Products Inspection Acts) and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act but the balance of power is switching to self-regulation. A turning point was the implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) inspection system in 2000 which replaced inspectors' visual examination of carcasses with inspectors simply ratifying that companies are following their own self-created systems--as in "trust me."

The HACCP system was  developed by former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor, which is no surprise in light of his pro-industry initiatives while working at the government. Taylor facilitated the approval of unlabeled GMO crops and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), both spearheaded by Monsanto, and has even lobbied against the Delaney Clause, which prohibits cancer-causing chemicals in food.

Food activists, animal activists, consumers and even industry insiders called HACCP "Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray" and an unvarnished a gift to industry. It's a “politically based policy masquerading as a science-based measure” that privatizes the meat inspection process for large plants while regulating smaller plants out of business. It allows contaminated meat to leave the plant with “smaller downstream processors . . .left accountable for problems caused by the original slaughterhouses,”  writes Nicole Johnson.

Soon after HACCP was implemented, a study by the Government Accountability Project and Public Citizen found that 62 percent of inspectors surveyed allowed contamination  like feces, vomit and metal shards in food under HACCP on a daily or weekly basis, which had never happened before. Almost 20 percent of inspectors said they’d been instructed not to document violations. In fact, a full 80 percent of 451 inspectors surveyed said that HACCP attenuated their ability to enforce the law and the public’s right to know about food safety.

Another federal meat inspector who spoke out about the broken system was veterinarian Dean Wyatt. The Food Safety and Inspection Service supervisory public health veterinarian from Williston, VT testified at congressional hearings in 2010 about federal inspectors' shocking lack of authority in slaughter plants. Plant managers openly defied the federal inspectors he said, and workers followed suit, actually ridiculing them.

 
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