Corruption, Mismanagement at USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service's Put Consumers at Risk, Whistleblower Says


by Martha Rosenberg, Organic Consumers Association

April 11, 2019


The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which operates under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and employs more than 10,000 people, is tasked with ensuring the safety and proper labeling of U.S. meat, poultry and eggs.


FSIS inspectors are present at over 6,200 U.S. slaughter, food processing and import facilities to check for diseased animals, compliance with the Humane Slaughter Act, bacterial contamination and the presence of antibiotic, pesticide and other residues. FSIS investigators monitor sales and distribution of finished products to prevent disease outbreaks and to help initiate recalls of contaminated products when they occur.


The agency’s No. 1 job is to protect consumers. Yet according to a compliance operations official who worked at FSIS for many years, internal corruption, mismanagement, low morale and undisguised conflicts-of-interest within the agency often prevent FSIS inspectors and investigators from doing their jobs. It’s a public health crisis “just waiting to happen,” the official told us, on condition of anonymity.


Moreover, large meat producers like Cargill, Tyson, Smithfield, Swift (JBS) and Sanderson Farms are often given a "pass" thanks to their high-paid lobbyists:


"The same misbranding or adulteration of product that would force an immediate recall from a small, 'Ma and Pa' company is overlooked with big meat companies," says the official.


Inspectors in the line of fire


There are two kinds of inspector positions at FSIS––those who work the kill line in slaughter facilities, and consumer safety inspectors who check companies for compliance with their hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) plans. HACCP plans seek to prevent biological, chemical and physical hazards in food processing.


In the dysfunctional FSIS systems, said the official, slaughter line inspectors might have the toughest job of all––there are serious obstacles that prevent them from doing their jobs.


For example, FSIS inspectors can push a button and stop the slaughter line if they suspect a violation is occurring—but "they better be damn right or their head is going to be on the stick," the official said. Stopping the line was estimated to cost a plant $5,000 a minute several years ago and costs have only risen. Inspectors are further deterred from taking action because they "may not be supported by their frontline supervisor or by the district office/management team."


Under the Humane Slaughter Act, cattle and hogs first must be "stunned" with a blow to the head or an electric shock so they won’t feel the pain of slaughter. Yet the law is  frequently broken say insiders.


"In plants all over the United States, this happens on a daily basis," said Lester Friedlander, a veterinarian and formerly chief government inspector at a Pennsylvania hamburger plant. "I've seen it happen. And I've talked to other veterinarians. They feel it's out of control."


The late Tim Walker complained about similar violations to a USDA veterinarian in the Florida slaughter plant where he was employed, as well as to all his supervisors. But no action was taken. Employees were afraid to speak out for fear they might lose their jobs.


Going directly to FSIS about violations feels to FSIS employees like "they are tattling on themselves," according to our insider source, who said that some inspectors have even received death threats.  When inspectors have been stationed at a particular plant for a while, they also may identify as that plant's employee. In at least one major violation case, which became a scandal, an onsite inspector was having affair with an employee greatly complicating compliance. Fewer than 10 percent of inspector issues get to FSIS, our source told us, adding: "In fact inspectors are not even allowed to go directly to Compliance but rather must go through the chain of command at their plant."


Nor are FSIS employees always backed up by their supervisors when they do seek to cite violations. Dr. Dean Wyatt, an FSIS supervisory public health veterinarian stationed at Vermont-area slaughterhouses testified at Congressional hearings that he was specifically instructed by his supervisors not to file violation reports–not to do his job–and that official reports were sanitized and deleted. Plant managers, sensing the lack of support, openly defied inspectors, and workers followed suit. In his testimony, Wyatt said:


"I was always shot down, so to speak, by my supervisors. I would walk by a plant foreman; they would laugh at me. I would go up to trim—I would give a rail inspector his break. Plant foreman would come up and tell my trimmer: ‘This guy doesn’t know anything. Don’t trim what he tells you. Just trim what you see.’ I mean, that is an example of the most egregious action a supervisor can take, because when you don’t support your inspectors you are just as guilty of breaking the law as the establishment, in my view."


Cow heads exhibiting evidence of eye cancer switched to fool inspectors ...


Impediments to recalls ...


More threats to public health ...


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