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BBQ warning: Feds find feces, cockroachs, flies littering hog processing plants

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Agriculture

Federal food inspectors at many of the nation's swine slaughterhouses fail to do their job and let repeat offenders continue to produce potentially contaminated meat without punishment, raising a "higher risk of providing pork for human consumption that should not enter the food supply," according to a new Agriculture Department audit.

What's more, the same inspectors at the nation's 616 plants that poured out 110 million pigs last year appear to look away at horrifying examples of abuse, including allowing swine stunned into a death sleep to revive, and, in one case, driving a skid loader into a hog for which the plant wasn't punished.

In the report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General said it visited a sample of 30 pig plants and found major health problems and examples of inhumane behavior in eight. For example, the IG found that inspectors didn't examine the internal organs of swine carcasses for contamination from feces. They also found cockroaches on the "kill floor" and flies in blood. They also 10 instances of "egregious violations" of humane slaughter methods where the plant faced no punishments.

But, the IG said the worst of their discoveries was that many plants cited for bad behavior continued to violated standards because USDA didn't enforce the laws or even suspend the use of the the USDA inspection sticker. "Since there are no substantial consequences for plants that repeatedly violate the same food safety regulations, the plants have little incentive to improve their slaughter process," said the IG in criticizing the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, a corp of 8,600 inspectors with an annual budget of $905 million.

The IG reported that the service agreed with all of their recommendations to tighten enforcement and inspection.

Vegetarian and animal groups have seized on the report to urge stricter enforcement of rules governing animal processing and humane treatment in slaughterhouses.

Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary, which opposes factory farms, wrote in a column for Huffington Post Green, "Every year according to the CDC, there are tens of millions of cases of food poisoning, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths. The agency charged with reducing these numbers is doing, according to its Office of the Inspector General, a pathetically bad job."

The key findings in the IG report:

The Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) enforcement

policies do not deter swine slaughter plants from becoming repeat

violators of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). As a result,

plants have repeatedly violated the same regulations with little or no

consequence. We found that in 8 of the 30 plants we visited,

inspectors did not always examine the internal organs of carcasses in

accordance with FSIS inspection requirements, or did not take

enforcement actions against plants that violated food safety

regulations. As a result, there is reduced assurance of FSIS inspectors

effectively identifying pork that should not enter the food supply.

We also found FSIS could not determine whether the goals of a pilot

program--Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)-

based Inspection Models Project (HIMP)--were met because FSIS

did not adequately oversee the program. In the 15 years since the

program's inception, FSIS did not critically assess whether the new

inspection process had measurably improved food safety at each

HIMP plant, a key goal of the program.

Finally, we found that FSIS inspectors did not take appropriate

enforcement actions at 8 of the 30 swine slaughter plants we visited

for violations of the Humane Method of Slaughter Act (HMSA). We

reviewed 158 humane handling noncompliance records (violations)

issued to the 30 plants and found 10 instances of egregious violations

where inspectors did not issue suspensions. As a result, the plants did

not improve their slaughter practices, and FSIS could not ensure

humane handling of swine. FSIS concurred with all of our

recommendations.