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Is the USDA's pilot program in pork plants putting you in danger?

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a pilot program that allowed five large hog plants to speed up line productions and use company employees as inspectors instead of government personnel. It was thought that the pilot would be largely successful and would reduce the price of pork products in the market. Unfortunately, an overview look at the study shows that there are more problems with the new system than could be anticipated.

According to audits of the plants, three out of the five have racked up numerous health and safety violations, including numerous instances of meat contamination. This is particularly alarming because these three plants had worse food-safety records than the hundreds of other hog plants across the nation that operate under the traditional inspection system.

Many government inspectors attribute the contamination to the acceleration of line speeds and say that their reduced presence in these plants means that they are no longer in charge of safety. While some contaminated batches were caught by government inspectors before they left the plants, some inspectors pointed out that they were not discovered until the end of the process, far too late by many standards. Some aren’t even caught, leading to costly recalls and the potential for causing food-borne illnesses across the nation.

Similar programs conducted in other countries such as Canada and Australia are showing similar health and safety problems. Just recently a Canadian processing plant had to recall 8.8 million pounds of beef because of E. coli, of which about 2.5 million pounds were sold in the United States. As our readers here in California know, food-borne illnesses can turn even ordinary items into dangerous products, leading many to wonder if this pilot study is doing more harm than good.

Source: The Washington Post, "USDA pilot program fails to stop contaminated meat," Kimberly Kindy, Sept. 8, 2013

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