National Consumers League

Growing concern over a flawed USDA plan for pork plants

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
This week’s Washington Post ran an expose story – one we were glad to see – about the misguided Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan to roll out a meat inspection program nationwide that will allow pork plants to use their own inspectors and replace USDA inspectors.

According to the Post story, the plan “has a history of producing contaminated meat at American and foreign plants.”  The Post noted that the USDA's decision to allow federal inspectors to be replaced at plants by private employees that serve as inspectors had produced “serious lapses that included failing to remove fecal matter from meat” in three of the five plants that had participated in a pilot program for more than a decade.

The Post went on to note that plants using the same procedure in Australia and Canada also ran into problems. In one case, a Canadian company had to recall 8.8 million pounds of beef products for E. coli contamination. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report last month even said that it would be difficult to recommend rolling out the plan nationwide.

NCL has been working with a coalition of food safety and worker safety groups since the moment the USDA announced its disastrous campaign to shift oversight to private companies, to increase line speeds, and endanger both workers and consumers. But the USDA simply won’t listen. The tide should be turning though. We have a new bill this week from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called the Safe Meat and Poultry Act, which addresses concerns about the line speeds and potential for food safety outbreaks in the USDA plan, the GAO report, and now this Washington Post story. We urge the USDA to listen at last to critics and give up this program, for the sake of the health and safety of all Americans.