Fearful Symmetries

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06 April, 2012

Keep An Eye on Those Chicken Nuggets for Fecal Matter

Privatizing things done by public agencies isn't always a bad idea but it seems that regulation just isn't one of those things we want industry to do for itself. The SEC likes to let Wall Street police itself and we know how well that turned out. Now it looks like the USDA is about to let the meat packing industry be converted to the honor system.

Under the current rules, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for inspecting all chicken and turkey carcasses for things like bruises, bile, and yes, shit, before they’re sent for further processing. The proposed HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) would remove those USDA inspectors from the lines, leaving poultry plant employees, who already stand in a fast-moving, I-Love-Lucy-style line, to flag unsanitary or otherwise flawed birds.

USDA inspectors now are responsible for 35 birds per minute, but if HIMP moves ahead, lines could move more than 200 birds per minute, according to the advocacy group Food and Water Watch. “We only have a bit over a second and a half to inspect the carcass, which is too fast,” said Steven Clarke, a federal inspector for 26 years, on the advocacy site Let Them Eat Chicken.

Clarke describes the shift as “ plain and simply a job cutting measure.” And in the end, cutting jobs means cutting dollars. In an article from early March, Food Safety News dug up a study [PDF] showing the program is projected to save FSIS up to $95 million over three years, and to give a $250 million boost to poultry companies.

Rumor has it that the HIMP program could begin as early as October (the current comment period goes through April 26). And, according to Hitt, there’s already a similar pilot program in place for pork production.



|| Palmer, 4:10 PM

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