Fighting Foul Fowl
By Anna Ghosh
Warning: do not read this while eating a chicken sandwich. Discussing the privatization of poultry inspection is gross, but letting the USDA get away with it is even more disgusting, not to mention makes our food less safe and puts workers in danger. Tell Secretary Vilsack not to privatize poultry inspection!
According to the National Chicken Council, “Americans buy more chicken than any other food at the center of the plate.” It’s safe to assume that Americans would like that chicken to be healthy, wholesome and free of fecal matter, bile, scabs, bruises and other unappetizing contamination. But the USDA isn’t concerned about these things. They call them “quality defects” and would rather leave it up the company employees to deal with; compensating for less inspection with more anti-microbial chemicals. But as the Washington Post uncovered, this is a deadly solution.
Since 2011, Food & Water Watch and its allies have been fighting plans to privatize poultry inspection as a matter of consumer and worker safety. In March of 2012, Food & Water Watch analyzed the USDA’s HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), the pilot that the current privatization scheme is based on, and found that large numbers of defects are routinely missed when company employees instead of USDA inspectors perform inspection tasks. In April of 2012, inspectors and more than 150,000 consumer spoke out about HIMP, prompting investigative stories from ABC News and the New York Times. We’ve also spent some time fact checking USDA officials, and former officials as Food & Water Watch Senior Lobbyist Tony Corbo did today in Food Safety News:
A year ago, Food & Water Watch was contacted by a consumer in Georgia who had bought a package of chicken that he intended to barbeque for his family on Mother’s Day. When he opened up the package, he found that some of the chicken breasts had some hard yellow substances on them. He sent us photos of the packaging and of the suspect chicken breasts. It turned out that those yellow substances were of partially digested chicken feed or ingesta. That product should never have been allowed into commerce. The package wrapper had the USDA-Inspected legend on it with the establishment number P-177. P-177 happens to be the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Gainesville, Georgia. That plant also happens to be one of the 20 HIMP broiler plants that Dr. Raymond is so proud of where the privatized inspection model is being piloted by USDA. You can take a look at the photo of the ingesta on that chicken on our website and an analysis of the inspection data from some of the HIMP plants we did that revealed that not only feathers were missed by the company employees, but a whole host of other “defects” such as visible fecal contamination.
I showed the photos that we had received from that consumer to Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia who at the time was the Chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and the main congressional advocate to privatize poultry inspection, and to the current USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen and FSIS Administrator Alfred Almanza. I explained what the photos represented and I told all of them that when I go to KFC to order fried chicken, the cashier always asks: “Do you want original recipe or crispy?” Not “Do you want original recipe or CRUNCHY?” Yes, Dr. Raymond, I want my taxpayer dollars to go to government inspectors to keep the food I feed my family safe and wholesome.
As Mother Jones Food Blogger Tom Philpott points out, while the Obama administration boasts about the minor government savings and major savings for big poultry companies, the USDA’s claims of food safety are shaky and concern for worker safety nonexistent. No matter how many chemical dunks are used, privatized poultry inspection will lead to unsafe food and unsafe working conditions. Period. Let Secretary Vilsack know how you feel about foul privatized foul here: http://fwwat.ch/ickychix