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There is Poop on Your Pork, and Government Inspectors Don’t Care

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Food Safety Enforcement

Inspectors’ enforcement efforts, such as they are, aren’t stopping swine slaughterhouses from repeatedly violating food safety laws. The problem, according to the OIG, is that FSIS inspectors do not

  • “take progressively stronger enforcement action against repeat violators”
  • “distinguish between serious violations and minor infractions”
  • receive “sufficient guidance on what actions to take in specific circumstances”

Some corroborating evidence: 44,128 noncompliance records that inspectors issued to 616 plants led to the suspension of only 28 plants over four years, despite repeated egregious violations at some facilities like “fecal matter on previously cleaned carcasses.” Some of those suspensions were as short as one day.

Many repeat-offender facilities that richly deserved suspension got off with slaps on the wrist.

  • One South Carolina plant’s violations included feces on a hog’s corpse after it was cleaned and all contaminated parts should have been removed, and “‘black colored liquid substance’ on processed meat.” The plant was never suspended, even after repeating these violations 202 times.
  • A Nebraska plant’s repeated violations included “fecal material which was yellow and fibrous” on the corpse. There may have been some vomiting, but there was no suspension. (By the way, imagine how miserably sick this pig must have been to produce that stuff.)
  • An Illinois plant’s repeat violations included both feces and “running abscesses” on the dead bodies. No suspension.

FSIS inspectors are responsible for the corpse’s innards as well as its appearance on the outside. But some inspectors just aren’t looking inside, even when they know OIG auditors are watching them. They may be missing “parasites, inflammation, swelling, or masses that might indicate disease.”

Inspectors are neglecting pigs’ welfare as much as food safety.

Humane Enforcement

As with the FMIA, inspectors did not adequately enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Their enforcement decisions were subjective, inconsistent and lenient, allowing slaughter plants to continue breaking the law without consequence.

What inspectors are supposed to do is immediately suspend facilities that commit “egregious” violations, meaning they caused severe harm to animals. What the inspectors actually did often was to take no action at all. Inspectors did nothing about these legal violations:

  • In a California slaughterhouse, after being shot in the head with a stun gun, a pig regained consciousness while hanging upside-down from the slaughter rail.  This is a direct violation of HMSA and grounds for suspension, but the inspector took no action — not even a slap on the wrist.
  • In a Minnesota plant that used a carbon dioxide chamber to render pigs unconscious, a pig came out of the chamber alert but weak and not moving. Employees left the pig to suffer for more than a minute and a half before they shot him or her with a stun gun. No enforcement action.

Auditors witnessed these violations though they spent no more than 30 minutes watching the stunning process in each facility. Extrapolation suggests that similar violations occur regularly at many plants and that inspectors take no enforcement action, and the evidence bears that out:

  • Employees at an Indiana plant shot a pig in the head twice with different stun guns, then administered a shock with an electric stunner before the animal lost consciousness. Later a pig regained consciousness on the slaughter rail at the same place. No suspension.
  • In a Pennsylvania facility a pig regained consciousness on the slaughter rail after his or her throat was cut. The animal was then dunked in scalding water. Employees did not stun the pig again before trying to cut the conscious animal’s throat properly. No suspension.
  • An employee at a Minnesota plant “forcefully hit a hog in the head and face with a paddle.” Clearly egregious; no suspension.

Getting Inspectors to Do Their Jobs

The USDA Inspector General’s office made recommendations in the report intended to address each of the problems it documented. FSIS responded with its own proposals for fixing the problems. OIG accepted every one of FSIS’s proposals.

Because previous audits did not made things better I hold out little hope that this report will dramatically reform FSIS. My recommendation, like that of Bruce Friedrich in the Huffington Post, is to stop eating meat. Unless you don’t mind feces dressing on your bacon.


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Photo credit: iStockphoto

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7:46AM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

thanks for sharing

12:32PM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

Just to remind everyone:

By the 1960's , humans had killed off 250 MIlLION of their fellow humans.

So the word, "Humane?" A one-word oxymoron?

12:28PM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

Thanks for the sadly disturbing article.

I had already cut my pork ( bacon) to "rarely;" I better cut it down to "never."

And move as much as I can to vegan.

So bad for those poor, sentient creatures.

8:42AM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

Maybe the inspectors who work for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) get payoffs from the slaughterhouses? I realize they're overworked but I also think there's more to their ineffectiveness at doing their job.

4:20AM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

The country doesn't matter, the species seems irrelevant too, the fact of the matter in my opinion is :
That the Meat Industries Practice's, leave a lot to be Desired.. The Whole Thing's Gross :-(

1:23AM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

Mark, you're being rude, disrespectful and insulting AGAIN. Do you ever stop? You're completely out-of-line and that accusation is one of your usual ridiculous ones, typical for you, and why stop at advising others to ignore me? Why not tell everyone to ignore everybody BUT you, since you seem to think your opinions (and that's all they are, your opinions) are the only valid ones in this site. Where did you ever get the idea that I'm friends with anyone who works in the slaughter industry? That's a far stretch, even for you. As for "shame", the only shame I feel is for being the same species as you are, but then you have said many times that being human makes you ashamed and you hate humans.

8:17PM PDT on Jun 15, 2013

It's best practice to ignore Diane L's excuses for atrocities committed by human species since she has such good friends in the slaughterhouse industry, she's apparently struggling with the shame

8:10PM PDT on Jun 15, 2013

really, 110 million animals? And the depraved human race was pretending to be up in arms about Hitler's concentration camps killing 6 million of their own. The horror of the human species and its hypocrisy knows no limit.

12:39PM PDT on Jun 15, 2013

Ouch these stories make a person wonder a lot about the choices made....... Poor animals..... hopefully things will change soon for the best..

5:18AM PDT on Jun 7, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

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