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by Ron Nixon
WASHINGTON — The Agriculture Department's plan to change its poultry inspection procedures relied on incomplete and antiquated data, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office released on Wednesday.
The new rules will allow workers at plants, rather than agency inspectors, to examine birds on processing lines for blemishes or feces.
The department is in the process of publishing final policies for the inspection program — which has been done in pilot programs at 20 poultry plants since 1998 — for use at poultry plants across the country. But the G.A.O. said the lack of data about how the inspections have worked at test sites raised questions about the department's contention that the procedures would be more effective in protecting food safety.
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by Mike McGraw
The meat industry has been scandalized in recent years by undercover videos showing horrific abuse of farm animals on their way to slaughter: workers kicking piglets like volleyballs, skinning veal calves alive and ramming a forklift into a sick cow.
The videos prompted commitments to improve enforcement of a 55-year-old federal law requiring that animals be insensible to pain when they're slaughtered.
Although many slaughter plants and meat inspectors have worked hard to avoid further abuse, new evidence shows that problems continue.
A federal investigation released last month shows many animals still suffer needlessly.
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by Ted Genoways
Shawn Lyons was dead to rights—and he knew it. More than a month had passed since People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had released a video of savage mistreatment at the MowMar Farms hog confinement facility where he worked as an entry-level herdsman in the breeding room. The three enormous sow barns in rural Greene County, Iowa, were less than five years old and, until recently, had raised few concerns. They seemed well ventilated and well supplied with water from giant holding tanks. Their tightly tacked steel siding always gleamed white in the sun. But the PETA hidden-camera footage shot by two undercover activists over a period of months in the summer of 2008, following up on a tip from a former employee, showed a harsh reality concealed inside.
Listen to the story here.
The Arkansas legislature passed Act 1160 this session intended to blunt animal rights activist incursions on factory animal operations. Although the Arkansas measure was mostly gutted, the intent reflects a growing "ag gag" movement. (Correction: a dozen bills have been proposed this year, not all have been enacted, as originally reported).
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by Kimberly Kindy
When Jose Navarro landed a job as a federal poultry inspector in 2006, he moved his wife and newborn son to a rural town in Upstate New York near the processing plant, believing it was a steppingstone to a better life.
Five years later, Navarro was dead. The 37-year-old's lungs had bled out.
His death triggered a federal investigation that raised questions about the health risks associated with a rise in the use of toxic, bacteria-killing chemicals in poultry plants. Agriculture Department health inspectors say processing plants are turning to the chemicals to remove contaminants that escape notice as processing line speeds have accelerated, in part to meet growing consumer demand for chicken and turkey.
The department is now poised to allow a further increase in line speeds, boosting the maximum by about 25 percent. This change is part of new regulations that officials say would make poultry production more efficient and reduce the number of government inspectors while increasing the number of private company inspectors.
Under the proposed rules, which could be finalized as soon as this summer, the number of chemical treatments used on the birds is also likely to increase, according to agency documents and USDA inspectors who have worked in plants where line speeds have already accelerated.
To the Editor:
Re "Open the Slaughterhouses" (Op-Ed, April 9):
Advocates for the meat industry are fundamentally incorrect in their assertion that ag-gag bills offer protection to whistle-blowers. To suggest that 48-hour grace periods for bringing video evidence of animal abuse to the authorities without threat of prosecution benefits whistle-blowers is misleading.
Mandatory reporting is intended to thwart long-form investigations by limiting the amount of evidence needed for successful prosecution. These clauses prematurely surface truth-tellers and allow management to retaliate against conscientious employees, framing the incident as isolated rather than systemic wrongdoing.
Moreover, with such a short turnaround period, potential witnesses indisputably lack adequate time to learn rights, seek support channels or obtain legal counsel.
Director of Food Integrity Campaign
Government Accountability Project
Washington, April 9, 2013
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by Alastair Bland
For years, undercover videos documenting animal cruelty at farms and slaughterhouses have cast the nation's meat and dairy farmers in a grim light.
In response, the livestock industry supported legislative efforts in multiple states designed to keep cameras from recording without permission in livestock plants. The Salt reported on these efforts, which activists call "ag gag" bills, last year.
But recently, the livestock industry seems to have taken a sharp turn in its legislative tactics.
Consider Assembly Bill 343 in California. Introduced in February, this bill would not prohibit a person from seeking employment at a slaughterhouse under false pretenses, which Iowa and several other states have outlawed. Nor would it forbid anyone from using a hidden camera while on the job, which Utah recently made illegal. All that AB 343 would do, in fact, is require that anyone who videotapes or records animal abuse turn over a copy of the evidence to police within 48 hours.
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by Aviva Shen
A new food inspection rule proposed by the US Department of Agriculture would let poultry plants conduct their own inspections, removing federal food inspectors from the assembly line. At a House appropriations oversight hearing on Wednesday, Food Safety and Inspection Service administrators argued the move would save taxpayers money and allow the department to focus on testing for pathogens like e. coli and salmonella.
But other FSIS inspectors working in poultry plants piloting the new rule protest that public health is sacrificed by outsourcing inspections.
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by Dan Noyes
The ABC7 I-Team took an inside look at a common meat industry practice that has activists and the meat industry squaring off. It's a battle that is bringing up new questions about how much you get to know about the meat you eat.
First we told you about meat glue, now, we're back with another common practice inside the beef industry that's not very well known -- tenderizing meat by machine, using needles or blades. The safety of the practice is being debated right now, after one of the biggest beef recalls in Canada's history.
Industrial videos posted to YouTube show how mechanically tenderized meat is made. Large, tough pieces of meat are punctured with needles or blades, breaking down the fibers into more desirable, tender beef. Sometimes water or marinade is injected at the same time.
"It's another way for industry to get as much profit as they can out of meat that otherwise consumers may not have been interested in," activist and Food Integrity Campaign spokesperson Amanda Hitt said.
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by Audrey Haynes
Last month President Obama signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act into law. The law revamps protections for federal employees who come forward and report misconduct, abuse of authority, or violation of law in their workplaces. These enhancements could be crucial in advancing environmental issues, but only if implemented properly.
"Protecting federal employees with the courage to come forward — at the risk of their own careers — to report waste, fraud, and abuse that they have witnessed is an important cornerstone of good and effective government," said Congressman Todd Platts (R-Pennsylvania) in a statement. Platts, along with Representatives Darrell Issa (R-California), Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) introduced this version of the legislation into the House earlier in 2012, where it passed unanimously, representing a remarkable and rare bipartisan effort.