Meat from Diseased Animals Approved for Consumers
By Lance Gay
Introductory Note from Pure Water Gazette Columnist Tiger Tom: Nothing kills your appetite faster than biting into a big gristly tumor.
WASHINGTON – The federal agency overseeing food inspection is imposing new rules reclassifying as safe for human consumption animal carcasses with cancers, tumors and open sores.
Federal meat inspectors and consumer groups are protesting the move to
classify tumors and open sores as aesthetic problems, which permits the meat
to get the government’s purple seal of approval as a wholesome food product.
“I don’t want to eat pus from a chicken that has pneumonia. I think it’s
gross,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass
Energy Project. “Most Americans don’t want to eat this sort of contamination
in their meals.”
Delmer Jones, a federal food inspector for 41 years who lives in Renlap,
Ala., said he’s so revolted by the lowering of food wholesomeness standards
that he doesn’t buy meat at the supermarket anymore because he doesn’t trust
that it is safe to eat.
“I eat very little to no meat, but sardines and fish,” said Jones, president
of the National Joint Council of Meat Inspection Locals, a union of 7,000
meat inspectors nationwide affiliated with the American Federation of
Government Employees. He said he’s trying to get his wife to stop eating
meat. “I’ve told her what she’s eating.”
The union is battling related Agriculture Department plans to rely on
scientific testing of samples of butchered meats to determine the
wholesomeness of meat, rather than traditional item-by-item scrutiny by
federal inspectors. A 1959 federal law requires inspectors from the
Agriculture Department’s Food Inspection and Safety System to inspect all
slaughtered animals before they can be sold for human consumption.
The Agriculture Department began implementing the new policy as part of a
pilot project in 24 slaughter houses last October, and plans to expand the
system nationwide covering poultry, beef and pork. The agency this month
extended until Aug. 29 the time for the public to comment on the regulations,
and won’t issue final rules until after the comments are received.
In 1998, the inspections and safety system reclassified an array of animal
diseases as being “defects that rarely or never present a direct public
health risk” and said “unaffected carcass portions” could be passed on to
consumers by cutting out lesions.
Among animal diseases the agency said don’t present a health danger are:
– A pneumonia of poultry called airsacculitis;
– Glandular swellings or lymphomas;
– Infectious arthritis;
– Diseases caused by intestinal worms.
In the case of tumors, the guidelines state: “remove localized lesion(s) and
pass unaffected carcass portions.”
“They just cut off the areas,” said Carol Blake, spokeswoman for the
Agriculture Department’s inspection and safety system.
But Jones and consumer groups say production lines are moving so fast that
they can’t catch all the diseased carcasses, and some are ending up on
“When I started inspecting, inspectors were looking at 13 birds a minute,
then 40, and now it’s 91 birds a minute with three inspectors. You cannot do
your job with 91 birds a minute,” Jones said.
The Agriculture Department is also experimenting with proposed rules that
would require federal food inspectors to monitor what the plant employees are doing, rather than inspecting each carcass individually. They are aimed at
bringing a new scientific approach to federal meat inspection to cut down on
E. coli bacteria and other contamination.
The inspection and safety agency says a survey of pilot plants using the new
system concluded that less than 1 percent of the poultry examined at the end
of the production line and released for public consumption was unwholesome.
At a public hearing on the findings this year, Karen Henderson of
Agriculture’s division of field operations admitted that defective carcasses
are being approved for human use under the pilot program.
“Absolutely. There’s no system that we are aware of that is capable of
removing every defect from the process,” she said.
Felicia Nestor, director of the Government Accountability Project, a
Washington watchdog group, said the pilot project found chickens with higher levels of fecal and other contamination than in traditional methods of
“A lot of diseased animals are going out,” she said.
A. Raymond Randolph, a federal appeals court judge, this month said federal
food safety laws require meat and poultry inspectors to examine every carcass that moves through slaughterhouses and processing plants.
“The laws clearly contemplate that when inspections are done, it will be
federal inspectors, rather than private employees, who will make the critical
determination whether a product is adulterated or unadulterated,” he said.
“Under the proposed plan, federal inspectors would be inspecting people, not
Scripps Howard News Service
July 14, 2000