Monday, August 13, 2012

Industry self-policing in poultry plants? Oh, boy . . .

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Opening the Northwest Arkansas Times this morning, I was struck by the cartoon on the editorial page with the heading:

“Report: USDA proposes less oversight, more self-policing at poultry plants”

The cartoon depicted an inspector training two chickens on how to be “inspectors,” with the advice, “ . . . So, it’s one ‘cluck’ for Salmonella, two for E. Coli . . .”

Pretty funny stuff.

Kid, I’ve got stories that would make your heart break.

I was never an inspector (either USDA or a plant inspector) in a chicken plant, but I have worked at two food plants here in Northwest Arkansas, one of which was a poultry plant. And while the USDA inspectors were largely considered to be a colossal pain in the ass, their work was vital.

Yes, the USDA inspectors were considered a pain the ass. They were bothersome.

They could shut your production line down, costing the company money, all in the name of the god they worshiped, “cleanliness.”

A lot of folks may remember the episode of The X Files which took place in an Arkansas chicken plant, and had an infamous scene with FBI agents Mulder and Scully walking around a production line (sans hairnets - how many poultry plant employees made fun of that scene?) interviewing employees.

The line was pretty realistic, though drastically slowed down for television purposes. Between 70 and 90 birds can come down a line a minute, and you have to learn to do your job quickly, and do it well.

People who work in food production do so under intense pressure, and have my highest respect.

That being said, the notion of “self-policing” - of letting industry do more of the inspections themselves - is inviting disaster for the consumers (you know, the people who eat food) of this country.

There will always be pressure from above to keep the line running, to pass product that may be borderline, or to miss problems altogether.

I will just tell you this:

There was always such deep resentment of the USDA inspectors at the plant where I worked among those responsible for keeping the lines running. The feeling was that they were just looking for excuses at times to halt production.

They weren’t “team players.”

Well, inspectors who work for the company, who draw their check from the company, will be team players. And there are a thousand and one ways to get past them, even if they aren’t.

Here is a good article I found online this morning:

USDA Inspectors: Government 'HIMP' Plan is a Threat to Food Safety

Shocking Whistleblower Affidavits Detailing Dangers of Poultry Plant Self-Inspection

And here is just one paragraph from that article, which should give all of us pause:

“Under traditional inspection methods, inspectors can see all sides (and the inside) of the bird. But inspectors at HIMP plants can only see the backside of the bird — not the front (where the breast meat is) that may clearly show tumors or scabs. Nor can HIMP inspectors see the inside of the bird, where fecal matter and other disease causing abnormalities are found.”

People have died from just eating bad peanut butter in the United States. Did you read of anyone going to prison?

When did Thomas Malthus start working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture?


So Mike Daisy played fast and loose with the facts: now American industry gets s free pass to ravage the peoples of undeveloped countries?

Mike Daisy, who seemed the darling of late-night talk shows when his one-man play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, opened, highlighting the abuses that many workers suffer while working for international corporations ( in this case Apple Computer) in China.

Abraham Lincoln once said there was a man who loved the truth so much he used to add on to it, and Mike Daisy was no exception. Some of the material in his play was fiction.

After it was revealed, and Daisy groveled before the entire world, the press lost interest in the story. For all they cared, the shoes they wore, the clothes they bought their kids, and the laptops they used at work were made by people who made $15 an hour, in air conditioned factories, who probably had better health benefits than most Americans.

End of story.

Back to the campaign, and the cute little dancing mouse at the end of the newscast.

But the problem is still there, kids, and even though Mike Daisy screwed up and made it worse than it may have been, doesn’t mean that it isn’t pretty horrible.

And instead of whining about the fact the clothes our Olympic athletes wore weren’t made in America, why not worry about how these clothes were made, and how one Olympic “breakfast” would be a feast for a family who worked in one of these hell holes.

Oh, look, a dancing gopher!


The X Files and Fayetteville

The story of the poultry plant which was done on The X Files was novelized, and I happened to read it a few years ago. It made reference to the agents landing at Fayetteville’s “decidedly low-tech airport.”

Ouch . . .


Quote of the Day

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing. - Marcus Aurelius

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