A disturbing, extensive Washington Post piece today reveals that the USDA hopes to implement a program nationwide that allows pork plants to process meat in less time while using fewer USDA safety inspectors—despite the fact that three of the five plants that have used the new meat inspection approach since 1997 as part of a pilot program have ranked among the 10 worst plants in the country when it comes to safety. (Among their violations: fecal matter on meat.) One of them, in fact, has the worst safety record of all. And more than 15 years later, a promised USDA review of the safety and efficiency of the program (called the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-based Inspection Models Project) has not occurred.
Now, the department has promised to complete the analysis by March and hopefully expand it to America's 608 pork plants. Unnamed USDA inspectors tell the Post workers in pilot plants are threatened if they complain about or try to slow the sped-up inspection. The paper reports that plants in the pilot have failed to catch contaminated meat multiple times, though government inspectors did notice it at the end of the line; that's considered to be too late in the process. The Post also points out that the USDA has given plants in Canada and Australia the go-ahead to use a similar inspection approach on red meat earmarked for export to the US; problems have abounded there, too. In one case last September, 2.5 million pounds of E. coli-tainted beef made it across the Canadian border and had to be recalled. And a rep for an Australian inspectors union had this to say of the sped-up inspections: "Tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses. Not small bits, but chunks." Click for the full piece. (If this report has you reaching for chicken, bad news there, too.)