Monday, August 6, 2012

Oh, Good! I was just thinking I wasn't getting enough E. coli!

Via the AJC, of all places:

Playing chicken on food safety?

USDA defends efforts to speed up poultry slaughter lines and replace most federal inspectors with plant workers

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

One-third of a second. 
That's how long a federal inspector will have to examine slaughtered chickens for contaminants and disease under new rules proposed by the federal government.  

Yeah, sure. It's not like chicken ever gets contaminated. No bacteria ever make their homes in chicken.

What could go wrong?

The proposal would speed up production lines as much as 25 percent. It also would pull most federal inspectors off the lines and replace them with plant workers.  

How in the hell could anyone think that that's a good idea? Plant employees monitoring their own plants? Who's going to report a problem knowing that if they do, it would almost certainly cost them their job? 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says its proposal is a win-win-win that modernizes food inspection while saving money for taxpayers and the poultry industry. 

NO! That is not a win. We don't want to save the industry money, we want our dinner not to poison us! We don't want to save the taxpayers a few bucks, we are the taxpayers. We're willing to pay a little extra money for the privilege of eating non-contaminated food.  And we sure as hell don't want to modernize food inspection if your idea of modernization is speeding up the lines and employing fewer actual inspectors. We don't win on any of those counts.

The biggest changes would:
- Use workers in chicken and turkey plants to replace all but one federal inspector on the conveyor belt, where bad birds are removed from the production line. (Currently, chicken plants have as many as four federal inspectors on their lines.) 

- Let those plants decide how much training their workers receive in identifying diseased or defected birds.  
(emphasis added)
Holy fuck! Since training employees takes time and costs money, how much training do you figure any of these plants is going to decide their employees need?

- Enable plants to speed up their slaughter lines so that the sole federal inspector, stationed at the end of the line, would be required to view up to 175 birds per minute. The maximum speed now is 140 per minute, but that workload is divided among four inspectors so that it averages out at 35 per minute for each inspector.

Oh, yeah. that's not insane at all. going from 35 per minute to 175 per minute? That's "modernizing" the inspection process!


- Let poultry plants decide what dangerous bacteria they test carcasses for and how often they test, and no longer require plants to test for E. coli.  

NO longer test for E. Coli? Whose idea is this? Who in the FDA thinks that this is what people want? Is there really anyone out there saying "if only the food supply was being inspected less?" Is there some big voting bloc who thinks that the real problem with this country is not enough E. Coli?

Oh, right!

The government says the changes will save taxpayers more than $90 million over three years. But the big winner will be the poultry industry, which will save at least $256 million a year in production costs, the USDA has projected

$90 million over 3 years? That's $30 million a year, or about 10 cents per American per year, so yeah, totally worth getting  salmonella now and again, especially if it saves the good people of the poultry industry some cash!

The Food Safety Inspection Service says the new system would require poultry plants to take more responsibility for weeding out birds with diseases, infections and defects. . . Currently federal inspectors pull these birds off the line when they spot them; the new rules would largely leave that to plant employees. 

So what's the point of this? Oh, well this way the actual inspectors could focus on the most serious bacterial contaminants. They won't, of course, but what's important is that they could.

In redirecting its inspectors from production lines, FSIS says, more inspectors will be freed up to focus on issues that affect public health, such as salmonella and campylobacter. Yet, under the proposed system, FSIS would not increase testing for those pathogens. 

Mmmmm, Chicken!

In 1999, FSIS created a pilot program that allowed 20 chicken plants and five turkey plants to play by a different set of rules. They could run their slaughter lines at faster speeds. They swapped most government inspectors on the lines with their own plant workers. 

Oh, so that must have worked out really well, I assume. So well that this program is being expanded to all chicken plants, right?
Opponents of the proposal say FSIS is distorting the facts on both issues. They cite an audit by the Government Accountability Office in December 2001, which concluded that results from the program would be "unreliable."
The audit also noted that citations for fecal contamination skyrocketed in poultry plants' first year in the pilot program. 

Proposed new uniforms, KFC

You know, I would expect this kind of bullshit from a Bush administration, but why now? What is the upside of this? What constituency is going to be pleased with these new rules?

And is anyone really so naive as to think that any business can be trusted with inspecting themselves? Have we learned nothing from Vioxx? Do we not remember the exploding Pintos, or the roll-over SUV's? Companies seem largely to be run by sociopaths. They honestly don't care if their products kill people, as long as the resulting lawsuits don't cost them all of their profits. And if your chicken kills someone, well that's pretty hard to even prove. You got food poisoning? well, maybe it was the chicken sandwich you had for lunch, maybe it was something you had for breakfast, or dinner? And if it was the chicken sandwich, maybe it was the chicken, maybe the mayo, maybe the lettuce or tomato. An awful lot of people have to get sickened before a pattern can even be established, and then they have to trace the chicken back to the specific plant. Basically, the odds of your getting caught are fairly slim, and if you're saving $256 million, and you're a sociopath, then a few sick or even dead people is a small price to pay.