- WASHINGTON - The federal agency overseeing food inspection
is imposing new rules reclassifying as safe for human consumption animal
carcasses with cancers, tumors and open sores.
- 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 purple seal of approval as a wholesome
- "I don't want to eat pus from a chicken that has
pneumonia. I think it's gross," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public
Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project. "Most Americans don't want
to eat this sort of contamination in their meals."
- Delmer Jones, a federal food inspector for 41 years who
lives in Renlap, Ala., said 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, a union of 7,000 meat inspectors nationwide affiliated
with the American Federation of Government Employees. He said he's trying
to get his wife to stop eating meat. "I've told her what she's eating."
- The union is battling related Agriculture Department
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. A 1959 federal law requires inspectors from the
Agriculture Department's Food Inspection and Safety System to inspect all
slaughtered animals before they can be sold for human consumption.
- The Agriculture Department began implementing the new
policy as part of a pilot project in 24 slaughter houses last October,
and plans to expand the system nationwide covering poultry, beef and pork.
The agency this month 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.
- In 1998, the inspections and safety system reclassified
an array of animal diseases as being "defects that rarely or never
present a direct public health risk" and said "unaffected carcass
portions" could be passed on to consumers by cutting out lesions.
- Among animal diseases the agency said don't present a
health danger are:
- - Cancer;
- - A pneumonia of poultry called airsacculitis;
- - Glandular swellings or lymphomas;
- - Sores;
- - Infectious arthritis;
- - Diseases caused by intestinal worms.
- In the case of tumors, the guidelines state: "remove
localized lesion(s) and pass unaffected carcass portions."
- "They just cut off the areas,'' said Carol Blake,
spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department's inspection and safety system.
- But 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. You cannot do your job with 91 birds a minute," Jones
- The Agriculture Department is also experimenting with
proposed rules that would require federal food inspectors to monitor what
the plant employees are doing, rather than inspecting each carcass individually.
They are aimed at bringing a new scientific approach to federal meat inspection
to cut down on E. coli bacteria and other contamination.
- The inspection and safety agency says a survey of pilot
plants using the new system concluded that less than 1 percent of the poultry
examined at the end of the production line and released for public consumption
- At a public hearing on the findings this year, Karen
Henderson of Agriculture's division of field operations admitted that defective
carcasses are being approved for human use under the pilot program.
- "Absolutely. There's no system that we are aware
of that is capable of removing every defect from the process," she
- Felicia Nestor, director of the Government Accountability
Project, a Washington watchdog group, said the pilot project found chickens
with higher levels of fecal and other contamination than in traditional
methods of inspecting.
- "A lot of diseased animals are going out,"
- A. Raymond Randolph, a federal appeals court judge, this
month said federal food safety laws require meat and poultry inspectors
to examine every carcass that moves through slaughterhouses and processing
- "The laws clearly contemplate that when inspections
are done, it will be federal inspectors, rather than private employees,
who will make the critical determination whether a product is adulterated
or unadulterated," he said. "Under the proposed plan, federal
inspectors would be inspecting people, not carcasses."
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