Back when I was in high school, the state in which I was living at the time was having difficulty getting a sufficiently large percentage of students to pass their standardized tests. Their solution to this problem, of course, was to dumb down the tests, to make it easier for badly educated children to pass them. It solved the problem (kids aren’t passing the exams) without really solving the problem (the kids are not well educated enough to pass the exams).
The USDA seems to be adopting a similar strategy in their poultry inspection program. For reasons which have absolutely nothing whatever to do with consumer safety (they claim they are “modernizing an outdated system” but mostly, the move will allow them to eliminate about 800 jobs, and will allow the plants to chew through 70% more birds by speeding the disassembly lines up even more), the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wants to allow individual poultry plants to provide their own inspectors rather than use inspectors supplied and trained (and paid) by the government. (This appears to be the original policy document, which goes into detail about the policy and is even more hair-raising than the New York Times article.)
Apparently, they’ve been trying this program in pilot plants, with the results you’d expect — the “inspectors” are being placed at the end of the line where they can’t see what’s going on, and the increased speed of the lines (up to 200 birds per minute, from the current 140) makes it even less likely that defects will be spotted. (200 birds a minute is more than three birds per second. How much detail — mold, disease, defects — can you see if you’re looking at three birds per second?)
To the above point, I’d like to add that the main humane issue in the processing of poultry (and other animals) is the unbelievably immense number of birds being slaughtered — this results in chickens going through part of the slaughter process conscious, among other horrifying things (workers losing fingers; consumers contracting salmonella). Even assuming multiple lines, how do you humanely slaughter three chickens per second? How do you “oversee” such a process? Apparently the USDA has decided to “overlook” it instead.
Increasing the speed of the lines by 70% and reducing the effectiveness of oversight does not sound like an idea with the best interests of either the birds or the consumers at heart. No wonder the poultry industry has “applauded the Agriculture Department decision.”
(Bonus: check out the photo in that article, of “chickens in an egg farm”. How many hens are crammed into that tiny space? At least they’re not debeaked….)
Posted in meat processing, news, the Machine, Uncategorized
Tagged bad ideas, factory farming, FSIS, inspection, line speeds, poultry, salmonella, USDA
This past holiday weekend, I listened to someone announce that they had “euthanized” their problem horse (who really did need to be put down — it had a vet-diagnosed neurological condition and was aggressively dangerous). I was thinking of commending them for taking responsibility for the animal and not just selling the problem along to an unsuspecting buyer when they said they had “euthanized” the horse by selling him for slaughter. (“Bam!” they said. “Bolt to the head.”)
Clearly they missed out on the part where horse slaughter was not, at that time, legal in the US — before their horse was “euthanized”, it rode many hours in an open air cargo van — perhaps one designed for horses, perhaps one designed for pigs or cattle — with no food or water, to reach a slaughter plant in Canada. The horse may not have even reached the killing box and its captive bolt gun — it may have died along the way, kicked at the feedlot, crushed or trampled in the truck, or suffering from exposure or dehydration.
There is hope that things may be changing. Recently, Congress has, without fanfare, quietly lifted a five-year-old ban on funding for inspection of horse meat, which indirectly paves the way for re-opening of domestic horse slaughter plants by providing for the inspection of meat produced at those plants. There isn’t currently a budget for horse meat inspection, so the process might be slow, but people who have been witness to the issues surrounding the lack of appropriate facilities in the US are scrambling to get one going, to prevent trips like the one my acquaintance’s horse took.
The closure of domestic slaughter plants in 2007 has not resulted in a reduction of the amount of US horses being slaughtered. They are simply being trucked over the border to be slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, doing nothing but adding a 24 to 72 hour trip in a packed cargo truck — here’s animal behaviorist and slaughter reformist Temple Grandin describing one version of that experience — to the doomed horses’ woes.
We certainly do need to alter a lot of things about the process that is allowing companion horses to be slaughtered for food — including providing education for horse owners, finding help for families who, through no fault of their own, can no longer support their animals, and initiating improvements in slaughter practices and how all slaughter plants (not just ones for horses) are run. There are a lot of problems with this industry, in all countries (graphic link). However, sending horses off to Mexico and Canada is not the answer. Providing a good support network for distressed owners, increasing public education, and bringing the slaughter plants under USDA control won’t fix the problem, but would be a huge step in the right direction.