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The USDA plans on rolling out a faster, but less efficient meat inspection program in pork plants around the country. And it may lead to more contaminated meat hitting the shelves, according to The Washington Post.
The new program attempts to cut costs and time by reducing the number of government inspectors at meat processing plants by half and replacing them with those hired by the industry itself. Concurrently, there will be a 20 percent acceleration in processing times, which will likely lead to an increase in profits.
Beginning in the late 1990s, five American pork plants were enlisted to try out a pilot version of this plan, called the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-based Inspection Model Project (HIMP). The USDA promised to monitor and study the performance of HIMP, but apparently, they didn't do so until March of this year.
When data was finally acquired, it revealed that three of the five plants involved in the experiment had abysmal food safety records. Feces were found on the meat, and although none of it made it to the dinner table, its removal from the processing line was only made possible by the remaining government inspectors who caught it at the last minute.
Similar programs have been exported to Canada and Australia with equally poor results. In 2012, 8.8 million pound of beef from a Canadian plant was recalled after evidence proved it was contaminated with E. coli. In Australian plants using the system, tainted meat was also discovered.
It’s pretty appalling that the USDA is even considering spreading this program to more plants. The meat lobbies have already garnered an absurd amount of insularity for the industry that basically allows companies to make up their own rules, with no checks and balances from external sources.
What little data we have shows that this new program is not a workable scenario. We need more regulation and caution in the meat production industry, not less. If the program is implemented nationwide, current trends suggest we will be looking at a bleak future of poop-laden meat and concurrent recalls and illnesses.