Target: US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Goal: Abandon implementation of failed experimental inspection program
The in-house government watchdog of Tom Vilsack’s US Department of Agriculture recently published a scathing indictment of a USDA pilot program in industry inspections. The experimental program—in place since 1997 on several large hog facilities—was crafted to reduce the number and frequency of inspections to allow for faster meat production and less bureaucratic red tape. Despite scant media coverage, this plan has long drawn the ire of consumer advocates who have accused the USDA of firing inspectors and cutting costs at the expense of food safety. According to the watchdog report, the program has been nothing short of disastrous; one slaughterhouse within the program drew 50 percent more citations than any other plant in the nation, while the other plants involved ranked far higher in citations than their counterparts subject to normal USDA inspections.
The report also noted that the hog plants under experimental inspection were issued over 44,000 citations in a three-year span. Moreover, the violations incurred have been ‘egregious,’ including ‘fecal matter on previously cleaned carcasses, ‘running abscesses on carcasses,’ and ‘the presence of cockroaches and other pests on the kill floor.’ These are the types of sickening episodes whose media exposure led to food inspection and safety acts early in the 20th century; for them to be so prevalent in today’s meat industry sheds a dark light on the USDA’s current efforts to protect consumers. While the program would save $90 million from the federal coffers (by reducing industry oversight), it would save the meat industry almost ten times as much in corporate profits. This begs the question: whose interests is Tom Vilsack’s USDA really out to serve?
The laissez-faire pilot program in question has in recent years been showcased by the USDA, which has shown interest in adopting an identical system throughout the country for all meat industry inspections. Please sign the petition below to demand that the Vilsack’s USDA abandon its implementation of this utterly failed experiment.
Dear Secretary Tom Vilsack:
The USDA’s role in food inspection serves a vital public interest in the protection of the welfare and well-being of consumers. The people of this nation place their trust in you and the agents of your department to safeguard them from the inequities of a food industry ruled only by its own self interest. Given the published report of your own agency’s watchdog, I am appalled at the USDA’s experiment in scaling back meat inspection and food safety oversight; this approach seems to serve only the purpose of enhancing the industry’s corporate profits. I am further concerned at USDA plans to streamline this program.
I ask that you reconsider your aim of implementing these types of changes throughout the nation, as the results of the pilot program foreshadow a drastic decline in food safety if your plans reach fruition. I appeal to your sense of civic duty to the people whom you have sworn to protect: do not let corporate interests overshadow those of the consumers whose trust you hold.
[Your Name Here]
Photocredit: borkazoid via Flickr