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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

Bacon, Now With Toenails? USDA Inspectors Blow the Whistle on Pork Program

Amanda Hitt | February 6, 2015

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Americans love pork. But they’d probably think twice about biting into that slice of bacon or Spam sandwich if they knew about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s high-speed slaughter program. Fortunately, a few brave USDA meat inspectors have come forward to let folks know what’s really going on in some pork plants across the country. Based on what they say, it’s time to slow things down.

Under the Department of Agriculture’s high-speed inspection program, pigs are moving down the processing lines at 1,300 hogs per hour! That’s really fast when you consider each pig weighs about 250 pounds. It’s so fast that USDA inspectors are coming forward with concerns, specifically about contamination. And by contamination, picture things like hair, toenails, feces, cystic kidneys, etc. What’s alarming is that whistleblowing inspectors report that this contamination is routinely missed by inspection and ending up at your grocery store or McDonald’s.

How can an inspector possibly check for problems when processing lines are zooming at such speeds? Answer: they can’t.

Four inspectors have submitted public affidavits to the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign, detailing their experiences of how, as one inspector put it, “food safety has gone down the drain.” The program was implemented under the guise that it would improve food safety. But that’s not how government meat inspectors feel about it. One anonymous inspector stated, “Over the past years, I have learned that is not the case. Instead it seems like it is just the USDA’s way of catering to the industry instead of the consumer.”

Inspectors run the risk of retaliation or termination for speaking out. One whistleblower brave enough to identify himself is recently retired inspector Joe Ferguson, who stated: “Personally, I will not eat any products that bear the name of the company for which this meat is produced. I don’t think that it is wholesome or safe to consume.” That’s really disturbing. The USDA’s own meat inspectors won’t eat the stuff!

You can’t listen to what these inspectors are saying and not want to put a stop to this. Hormel is one of the top pork producers in the country and owns three of the five plants currently participating in USDA’s high-speed hog inspection pilot program. We are asking Hormel to stop using high-speed inspection. Hormel, it’s time to put public health over profit!


Amanda Hitt is Director of the Food Integrity Campaign.