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On meat lines of America, inspectors sleep at the switch



Published: Tue, September 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



How can we describe the new U.S. Department of Agriculture plan that is supposed to protect the public from contaminated meat? It stinks.

An investigation by the General Accounting Office found one case in which a meat processing plant continued to operate after inspectors cited it for 109 repeat violations.

The GAO also found that while the Agriculture Department requires processing plants to have specific plans to prevent contamination of the food supply, the department has reviewed only about 1 percent of those plans.

In 47 cases, the Agriculture Department identified plants as producers of meat samples that tested positive for salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria, but only 12 of those plants came up with plans that would reduce the likelihood of further contamination.

In 60 cases where federal meat inspectors ordered production lines stopped for serious violations, the directive was reversed in 57 and the lines kept going.

Who is protecting whom?

It appears that the Department of Agriculture is more interested in protecting the meat industry than protecting the public.

Even when inspectors find evidence of potentially dangerous practices, they do little or nothing about it. It comes as no great comfort, then, that these inspectors could find no documented violations in 55 percent of the plants.

The same inspectors who look the other way when carcasses contaminated with animal feces work their way down the line are assuring the public that more than half of the plants are being run in absolutely perfect fashion. Sure they are.

The administration owes it to the American public to get tough on meat processors. In fact, it owes it to the ranchers and farmers whose livelihoods depend on meat sales to get tough on processors.

Consumers who aren't confident that the meat they are buying is safe will buy less meat. The only problem with that is that the USDA isn't doing all it should to assure that the fruits and vegetables that are making it to market are as safe as they should be either. More on that another day.




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