Workers deserve safe conditions
The well-being of food system workers directly affects us all.
The well-being of food system workers directly affects us all.
Our food system would be safer for everyone if Big Ag weren’t controlling it.
During a pandemic, being able to trust our food system is crucial for our stability. So why is the USDA sneakily approving industry requests to put profit over safety for food and workers?
As the world focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on public health, the Trump Administration has been busy behind the scenes doubling down on its campaign to deregulate Big Ag. At the same time, it is not providing safeguards to food production workers and government inspectors who are being made to work on the frontlines without frontline employee protections.
The USDA Is Playing Fast And Loose With Meat Inspection Lines During The Coronavirus Outbreak
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is deregulating inspection in some of the largest pork processing facilities by reducing the number of inspectors assigned to the slaughter line. They turn over critical inspection tasks to untrained company employees, and remove the cap on how fast the line can run. FSIS anticipates that 40 hog slaughter facilities will convert to this method, which is being called the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS). Those 40 facilities process over 92% of all pork in the U.S. Some of the big names in pork processing are pushing for this, such as JBS, Tyson, Smithfield, Clemens, and Quality Pork Processors. In one plant that has been experimenting with the new system, FSIS inspectors have 2.6 seconds to determine whether the company employees have performed their tasks properly. As a consequence, it is not uncommon for hog carcasses to be contaminated with feces, hair, toe nails, and bile to be greenlit for processing into bacon, pork chops, hot dogs, sausage, and other pork products.
Three lawsuits to challenge NSIS have been filed by unions representing the plant workers, animal welfare groups, and food safety advocates, including Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety. FSIS hid critical information from the public when it first proposed the frighteningly minimal system. Food & Water Watch was forced to file separate litigation to obtain crucial, undisclosed information which revealed that NSIS would lead to more contaminated pork entering commerce and could lead to an animal disease — to ravage hog herds and/or be transmitted to humans. Plants that wanted to convert to NSIS had until March 30, 2020 to state their intentions. FSIS still refuses to disclose the names of those plants, leaving consumers in the dark.ADD YOUR NAME!Tell Congress to stop allowing USDA food safety waivers.
Meat Companies Are Being Given Almost Full Control Over Their Own Inspection Standards
While it is struggling to keep poultry plants properly staffed with inspectors during the pandemic, FSIS has stepped up its approvals of regulatory waivers to chicken slaughter plants that want to increase their maximum line speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. In the first two weeks of April, FSIS approved 11 such waivers for plants operated by Foster Farms, Tyson Foods (4 plants), and Wayne Farms (6 plants). These plants have all converted to the so-called New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) in which the number of government inspectors assigned to the slaughter line is reduced and many of their tasks are turned over to company employees. Under traditional inspection, each FSIS inspector is assigned 35 birds per minute to inspect. Under NPIS, there is only one FSIS inspector stationed at the end of the slaughter line. When a plant is granted a line speed waiver, that sole FSIS inspector is expected to examine 3 birds every second — or 175 birds per minute. The waiver process that FSIS uses is done in secret; it is not open to public scrutiny until the FSIS reveals that it has granted the waiver. Since taking office, the Trump USDA has approved 28 new waivers under this process, mostly to the big players in the poultry industry.
Inviting everyone to the new game, FSIS is recruiting cattle slaughter plants to deregulate inspection, too. In late March, FSIS approved a waiver through its secret process for a Tyson beef plant in Holcomb, Kansas that slaughters up to 6000 head of cattle per day. The waiver is designed to reduce the number of government inspectors assigned to its slaughter line, increasing its line speed. FSIS has not revealed how fast the line will run with this waiver or how many fewer government inspectors will be on the slaughter line, but we know it won’t result in safety for consumers.
Meat Inspection Deregulation Threatens Food Safety
All of these deregulatory moves are designed to increase production; they are not being done to improve food safety. They will contribute to expanding the industrial agriculture model by promoting the growth of factory farms. It’s even more disconcerting that it is occurring in the middle of a national crisis.
As the Trump Administration has stepped on the accelerator to deregulate in recent weeks, there are numerous examples around the country of meat and poultry plants being impacted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While the news has been focused on urban areas racked by the pandemic, hot spots have also emerged in rural communities in Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska where meatpacking plant workers have contracted the virus while being forced to work, forcing some plants to curtail or cease operations temporarily.
In those instances where meatpackers have insisted on continuing with business-as-usual even when their employees have gotten sick, it has pitted public health officials against company officials and even USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Plant workers and even government inspectors who work at these plants have not been given adequate personal protective equipment. It is virtually impossible to practice social distancing in these plants because plant workers and government inspectors work side-by-side in slaughter and processing facilities. When workers protested these conditions, Vice President Mike Pence had the audacity to urge the workers to continue “to show up and do [their] jobs.”
Urge Officials To Take Action Against Increased Line Speeds
Increased line speeds only create more opportunities for contamination and sickness. It’s unnecessary and it’s putting our health at risk.
Tell Congress to stop allowing USDA food safety waivers. This is no time to gamble with Americans’ health.
Increased line speeds should be stopped.
A hallucinogenic drug, an anti-inflammatory unapproved for human use, and a potent antibiotic with potentially life-threatening side effects have been detected in U.S. meat supplies, along with several other restricted substances. These results were uncovered in a set of data that it seems the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) didn’t intend to make public. Now the USDA has released a new set of data claiming that it trumps the original, but experts like those at Consumer Reports aren’t buying it.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) randomly tested nearly 6,000 samples of meat between 2015 and 2016. The samples were gathered at slaughterhouses nationwide and sent to labs for testing by the newest devices that can measure dozens of compounds at once, and are able to detect them in more minute doses than they could in the past — down to parts-per-trillion rather than parts-per-billion.
Then, food safety organizations submitted a Freedom of Information Act request as a result of a lawsuit against one of the nation’s largest poultry factory farms, Sanderson Farms. The data sets were released, and questions began rolling in from Consumer Reports’ analysis. FSIS claimed the data should not have been released, and that a new dataset based on a complicated new baseline should be used instead. Food safety experts see this as a pretense to avoid an investigation. Watch the video:
“Hundreds of samples of poultry, beef, and pork appeared to show residue of drugs that the government says should never be used in food animals. Other samples had evidence of drugs that must be out of an animal’s system by the time it is slaughtered. The samples came from producers large and small, and included meat destined for supermarkets, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and elsewhere.”
Copyright 2018. Reprinted with Permission from Consumer Reports.
This is exactly the question that needs more investigation. There are a variety of possibilities, from contamination of the water the animals drink to misuse of these substances in the raising of the animals. But an investigation won’t happen until the USDA acknowledges that the data warrants it. Food safety advocates like Food & Water Watch and Consumer Reports are working to bring enough attention to the problem to pressure the FSIS to act. Once the cause is known, we can work on advocating for a solution — but it all starts with FSIS deeming this a problem worth exploring.
The USDA should stop hiding the facts about what is in the meat people feed their families. Consumers have a right to know what the drug residue sampling program found, not just get a sanitized version of what the USDA wants them to see. That’s why we are posting the original data set here. Download the files above to see the difference between the original files and the edited versions the USDA released, and share this so your friends and family get informed, too.
This is something your friends should know about.
The misuse of antibiotics on factory farms impacts everyone. Learn how Nicole had to battle an antibiotic-resistant strain of MRSA – right after giving birth.
Antibiotic-resistant infections aren’t something you typically worry about, much less even think about, on a regular basis. But what happens when you get one? How does it change your life? With the growing misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, the concept of antibiotic-resistant infections is on people’s minds more than ever before.
A few years ago, an antibiotic-resistant infection changed the life of Nicole, a mom from Kensington, Maryland. Nicole leads what she jokingly calls a “pretty crunchy” lifestyle. She grows her own organic vegetable garden, sticks to local and organic meat, and limits the amount of processed foods in her pantry. Nicole was thrilled to breastfeed her new son Thomas, but when he was only three-and-a-half weeks old she developed mastitis.
“Sometimes the milk duct can get infected and it’s very painful,” Nicole said. “You’re supposed to work through it and I tried to do some homeopathic things to take care of it, but it got worse and worse. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain became a 30.”
Nicole received antibiotics from her OB/GYN, but it quickly became apparent that they weren’t working. A team of doctors soon discovered that she had antibiotic-resistant MRSA in her breast. The infection was spreading rapidly, and everyone was concerned that Nicole’s C-Section incision would soon become septic as well. Nicole was stunned by the whole situation. “I felt like I needed Dr. House!”
By far the scariest part of Nicole’s infection was learning that it had spread to her breast milk.
“As a nursing mom you’re constantly sort of leaking milk,” Nicole said. “So there was basically MRSA oozing out of my breast and when you have a 4-week-old baby you don’t want anything like that touching him… I was afraid to feed or touch him.”
Luckily, Thomas did not contract MRSA. But Nicole was devastated when she found out that she could no longer breastfeed her son.
“It was devastating to me. The worst part of this whole thing for me was being told I couldn’t breastfeed anymore. It was worse than the pain. They robbed me of that experience with my child.”
It took over four months and a lengthy stay in the hospital for Nicole to finally beat her antibiotic-resistant infection. She’s better now, but is constantly worried about Thomas’ welfare. Her son is in school now, and she worries about the possibility of him contracting an antibiotic-resistant infection.
Nicole and Thomas’ story is very scary. But if we can convince factory farms to stop overusing antibiotics and allowing dangerous bacteria to develop, we can start to close the chapter on antibiotic-resistant infections. Take action now and help us ban factory farms!
Send a message to your lawmaker to support the Farm System Reform Act!