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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

LA Weekly: New High-Speed Pork Inspection System May Not Be Stopping Contaminated Meat

February 5, 2015


In love with bacon, pulled-pork BBQ and a lovely pork chop now and then? Then buyer beware, as some of the pig products coming to grocery butcher shelves and restaurant refrigerators may not be getting the proper inspection needed to prove they’re not contaminated with some pretty disgusting stuff.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP), a watchdog advocacy group since 1977, recently released a report with information gleaned from four Federal meat inspectors currently working at one of the country’s five hog processing plants participating in a high-speed inspection pilot program sanctioned by the USDA.

The system increases the speed of processing lines and reduces the number of trained USDA inspection personnel in the hog plants, but the report says it may have drastic repercussions on public health. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) already implemented a similar high-speed inspection program for poultry late last year, a switch that 68 U.S. Congress members tried to stop.

Joe Ferguson, a USDA inspector for 23 years, wrote that it’s impossible to catch defects on the program because of the increased line speeds.

“We used to be stop [sic] the line for bile contamination, chronic pleuritic, hair/toenails/scurf and have these defects trimmed/removed, under [the new high-speed system], these are considered ‘Other Consumer Protections’ and we are no longer allowed to stop the line so they may be removed,” he wrote. “The only time we are allowed to stop the line is for food safety concerns, and even then we get yelled at.”

A high-speed processing system moves the animals though processing about 20 percent faster than the traditional system, which, according to the report, limits the ability of plant employees and USDA inspectors to detect contamination on the carcasses. The USDA employees cited in GAP’s report say this is leading to contaminated pork making its way onto your table.

“On numerous occasions I witnessed [company inspectors] fail to spot abscesses, lesions, fecal matter, and other defects that would render an animal unsafe or unwholesome,” insists one USDA inspector (who remained anonymous) in an affidavit presented by GAP.

Contaminated with exactly what? Think everything from hair, toenails and fecal matter to cystic kidneys and bladder stems, as well as salmonella and other nasty bacteria, GAP found.

Of the five plants currently testing the high-speed processing system, Hormel has three, including one right in our backyard: the Farmer John/Clougherty Packing Company in Vernon. GAP has launched a petition asking Hormel to discontinue the high-speed processing at its plants in California plant, Minnesota and Nebraska.

Ferguson went on the record with this chilling statement: “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.”

USDA evaluated all five pilot plants last November and said that there was “no reason to discontinue high-speed inspections in market hog establishments.”

Which leads us to suggest checking out a different USDA program, the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, encouraging American consumers to buy local, from farmers and ranchers who are not using high-speed processing to bring their pigs to market.