- The Agribusiness Examiner Issue # 82 July 27,
2000 Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
A.V. Krebs Editor\Publisher
- Thousands of pounds of chicken with tumors, pus, sores
and scabs have been passed onto unsuspecting consumers by the GoldKist
plant in Guntersville, Alabama in a failed USDA experimental inspection
program begun last fall, according to government records obtained by Elliot
Jaspin of Cox Newspapers.
- Despite Clinton administration officials and GoldKist,
the nation's second largest poultry processor, claiming that poultry leaving
the plant was safe and USDA's reassurance last week that its relatively
new experimental inspection program was a huge success, inspection records
show, according to Cox Newspapers, that the government tried to keep secret
a picture of a plant unable to keep diseased poultry from reaching the
- As Jaspin reports: "Under the experimental program,
company workers instead of federal inspectors are supposed to find and
remove substandard poultry. But on some days last winter, the records show,
company workers failed to catch 25% of the diseased birds on one of the
plant's two production lines."
- Delmer Jones, head of the union that represents federal
food safety inspectors, told Jaspin that he sees the experimental program
as an attempt by the government and industry to brainwash consumers into
believing it is OK to eat what he derisively termed "wholesome diseased
- "It's unwholesome, adulterated product," Jones
said, "and it is being allowed to go out to the consumer."
- While chickens are not considered a threat to human health
because poultry diseases cannot be transmitted to human beings, federal
inspectors point out that diseased birds are supposed to be condemned because
they are not considered wholesome. Under the government's definition, these
include chickens with airsacculitis a common respiratory disease that leaves
pus inside the carcass or those with tumors, sores, scabs or infections.
- Chicken from the Guntersville plant helps supply, among
other customers, nuggets for school lunch programs in 31 states, including
Texas and Ohio.
- Following the company inspection, federal employees take
several samples of 10 birds every day to see how many defective carcasses
slip by. In addition to diseased birds, inspectors look for other indications
the birds are unwholesome, such as sores, bruises or parts of the digestive
tract clinging to the carcass, Jaspin adds.
- Copies of reports on such samples obtained by Cox Newspapers
through the Freedom of Information Act showed that by the government's
own accounting methods, 40% of the samples taken from October until the
following February failed at least one of these tests. The most common
cause of failure was that a bird was diseased.
- Under the experimental program, it is up to the company
to decide how it will improve its performance, but according to the Cox
account the government inspectors at Guntersville said the company did
little, if anything, to limit the number of diseased birds leaving the
- USDA officials initially refused to hand over the test
reports, saying that they were "linked to the deliberative process"
and if members of the public had access to the information they might "interpret
the data and prejudge" what the government might do with its experimental
program. After Cox Newspapers threatened to take USDA to court, the government
reversed itself and handed over the data.
- When problems at the Guntersville plant first came to
light, John Bekkers, head of Gold Kist, said the public was being "misled
by a few union-activist" USDA officials. However, company officials
later acknowledged to federal investigators that they were having a problem
with diseases ravaging the Gold Kist flocks, according to a report by the
Agriculture Department's Office of Inspector General. New Meat and Poultry
Inspection System Criticism called "Irresponsible" by USDA
- Describing recent criticism of the USDA's new meat and
poultry inspection program as "irresponsible," Thomas Billy,
administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said last
week that he was speaking out "to stop a campaign of what I consider
misinformation . . . the notion that we are now allowing products to bear
the mark of inspection that were not permitted before is a misrepresentation
- The new program which relegates inspection authority
into the hands of packing company employees has been attacked in the media
as well as by a federal court and the department's own inspector general.
- A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D. C.,
recently declared that the new inspection system "provides the industry
with complete control over production decisions and execution," and
ruled it is illegal for the USDA to allow company workers to replace government
employees in inspecting products at meat and poultry plants.
- The American Federation of Government Employees, which
represents the department's inspectors, sued USDA in 1998 to stop the project.
But a federal judge allowed the department to go ahead last fall, agreeing
with USDA that its inspectors were not required to handle every carcass
so long as they kept an eye on the meat. The appeals court decision sends
the case back to the lower court.
- While Billy expressed "disappointment" with
the Court's ruling he stressed that under the new inspection system, "it
is still our job to inspect, to verify, to decide what products have earned
the (USDA) mark of inspection. We are not standing on the sidelines watching
others play the game."
- In its ruling the Appeals Court note that claiming to
fulfill a legal requirement to inspect meat and poultry carcasses by watching
others perform the task is like saying "umpires are pitchers because
they carefully watch others throw baseballs."
- As the Des Moines Register's George Anthan reports, "the
new inspection program is designed to allow government inspectors to look
for systemic problems in packing plants while company employees carry out
more routine inspection duties. The inspectors' union has said the system
breaks a sacred trust with consumers." USDA Seeking New Ruling Allowing
Diseased Meat/Poultry Sales to the Public
- In another proposed ruling that calls into question whether
the U.S. Department of Agriculture is more concerned with currying the
favor of the meat and poultry processing industry than it is protecting
food consumers the USDA is proposing a rule that would permit the sale
of diseased meat and poultry to the public.
- Among the animal diseases that the USDA now says are
safe for human consumption if they are found in slaughtered meat and poultry
include: cancer; a pneumonia found in poultry called airsacculitis; glandular
swellings or lymphomas; sores; infectious arthritis, and diseases caused
by intestinal worms. The USDA is accepting comments on this proposed rule
until August 29, 2000.
- Federal meat inspectors and consumer groups are protesting
the move to classify tumors and open sores as aesthetic problems, which
permits the meat to get the government's seal of approval , as a wholesome
- "I don't want to eat pus from a chicken that has
pneumonia," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical
Mass Energy Project.
- Delmer Jones, a federal food inspector for 41 years,
told Scripps Howard News Service he's so revolted by the lowering of food
wholesomeness standards that he doesn't buy meat at the supermarket anymore
because he doesn't trust that it is safe to eat. "I eat very little
to no meat, but sardines and fish," said Jones, president of the National
Joint Council of Meat Inspection Locals. The union of some 7,000 meat inspectors
is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees. He
said he's trying to get his wife to stop eating meat.
- The News Service reports that the union is battling related
USDA plans to rely on scientific testing of samples of butchered meats
to determine the wholesomeness of meat, rather than traditional item-by-item
scrutiny by federal inspectors.
- USDA began carrying out the new policy as part of a pilot
project in 24 slaughterhouses last October and plans to expand the system
nationwide. It will cover poultry, beef and pork. The agency has extended
until Aug. 29 the time for the public to comment on the regulations and
won't issue final rules until after the comments are received.
- Jones and consumer groups say production lines are moving
so fast that they can't catch all the diseased carcasses, and some are
ending up on supermarket shelves. "When I started inspecting, inspectors
were looking at 13 birds a minute, then 40, and now it's 91 birds a minute
with three inspectors," Jones said. "You cannot do your job with
91 birds a minute."
- Public comments on this proposed rule should be addressed
- FSIS Docket Clerk Docket No. 97-036A United States Department
of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service Room 102, Cotton Annex
300 12th Street, S.W. Washington, DC 20250-3700
- RE: Docket No. 97-036A
- For more information, contact:
- Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environmental
Program 215 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E. Washington, DC 20003 (202) 546-4996
- For technical information about this rule, contact:
- Daniel Engeljohn, Director Regulation and Analysis Division
Food Safety and Inspection Service (202) 720-5627 Food Industry Backed
Senate Bill will Nullify State Laws that Require Food Label Warnings
- Last month on a voice vote by the Senate Agriculture
Committee after no hearing and little advance notice, legislation was approved
that would nullify state laws that require warnings on foods and dietary
supplements or regulate the handling of eggs and other products.
- The bill's 35 sponsors, including Senate Democratic Leader
Tom Daschle of South Dakota, according to the Associated Press's Philip
Brasher, now are looking for must-pass legislation to which they can attach
the food proposal and are not ruling out trying to put it on an agricultural
appropriations bill pending on the Senate floor.
- "If a product needs a warning label then it shouldn't
just be in one state, it should be in all 50 states. . . . We're one country,
we're not 50 countries," said Susan Stout, public affairs vice president
of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
- Critics of the proposal see the food industry's same
strategy that it employed in the organic standards act and chemical poison
legislation: supersede tough individual state legislation with watered
down industry-crafted national regulations.
- The Senate bill, known as the National Uniformity for
Food Act of 2000, would bar states from imposing labeling and food safety
standards that are tougher than the Food and Drug Administration's. States
would have to petition the FDA for exemptions from the law. Opponents of
the legislation say it would effectively block state efforts to act in
areas where FDA has been ineffective or to goad the agency to regulate
- Meanwhile, in a report released July 11, the General
Accounting Office (GAO) said consumers may be buying some potentially unsafe
products because FDA has not set a clear safety standard for new ingredients
in dietary supplements or issued regulations or guidance for safety-related
information on labels.
- The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Brasher
reports, has compiled a list of laws and regulations that could be affected
by the Senate bill. In addition to California's Proposition 65, they include:
Laws in at least 17 states, including California, Florida, Illinois and
Texas, that allow them to set tolerances for food additives that are more
stringent than FDA standards.
- California's Proposition 65, requires a warning label
on all products that contain cancer-causing agents or substances that are
toxic to the reproductive system. After the law was imposed, the state
used it to force manufacturers to reduce lead levels in calcium supplements.
- The law "has been very good at catching loopholes
in federal protection, and the feds have often responded by tightening
their own standards once California showed the way," David Roe, a
lawyer who helped craft the California law, told Brasher. Corporate Agribussiness
Research Project Website Search Engine Now Available
- The Corporate Agribusiness Research Project (CARP) web
site now contains a streamlined search engine which will not only allow
viewers to find needed information by simply using key words, but they
will be able to also access Issues #1 through #77 of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER.
- The CARP web site, which is now posted on the World Wide
Web, features: THE AGBIZ TILLER, THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER and "Between
- THE AGBIZ TILLER, the progeny of the one-time printed
newsletter, now becomes an on-line news feature of the Project. Its initial
essay concerns one Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate
for a U.S. Senate seat in New York State.
- In "HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON'S $99,537 MIRACLE: IT'S
THE PITS!!!" now available through THE AGBIZ TILLER you'll learn some
of the messy details behind her cattle futures "miracle." You
will also find in this section the archives for past editions of the THE
- In "Between the Furrows" there is a wide range
of pages designed to inform and educate readers on the inner workings of
corporate agribusiness. In addition to CARP's "Mission Statement,"
"Overview" and the Project director's "Publication Background,"
the viewer will find a helpful "Fact Sheet" on agriculture and
corporate agribusiness; a "Fact Miners" page which is an effort
to assist the reader in the necessary art of researching corporations;
a page of "Quoteable Quotes" periaing to agribusiness and corporate
power; a "Links" page which allow the reader to survey various
useful public interest, government and corporate web sites; a "Feedback"
page for reader input, and a page where readers can order directly the
editor's The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.
- The CARP web site was design and produced by ElectricArrow
of Seattle, Washington. <http://www.electricarrow.com
- BioDemocracy and Organic Consumers Association 6114 Hwy
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