Monday, April 09, 2012

Self-regulation for poultry slaughterhouses? You've got to be kidding me! Only, you're not ...

In further evidence that the Obama Administration is still firmly committed to the basic neoliberal outlook of deregulation and of the function of government being to pander to business interests, Mike Elk reports, Obama Administration Pushes to Privatize Poultry Inspection In These Times 04/06/2012:

The USDA [US Department of Agriculture] wants to expand a pilot program that currently allows 20 chicken slaughterhouses and five turkey slaughter houses to employ their own meat inspectors instead of using independently funded federal government inspectors.

The HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) expansion plan proposed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack would expand the pilot program to 200 slaughterhouses, allowing companies to employ their own poultry inspectors. Chairman of the National Joint Council of AFGE Food Inspection Council Chair Stan Painter says that the proposed program could lead to the elimination of 1,000 USDA poultry inspection jobs. The USDA has claimed (PDF) that the proposed change could save inspectors $95 million during its first three years and would save the poultry industry about $250 million.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union is actively opposing this plan, and for excellent reasons:

Stan Painter, Chairman of the AFGE National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, has several concerns about the new proposed rule. In the current poultry slaughter plants, FSIS inspectors are required to have at least three years of experience, through training, education or a combination of the two. The new proposed rule does not include language requiring experienced workers. "People will walk in off the streets, and they will put them in this position with no training," said Painter.

Another issue with which Painter expressed concern is that, under the new proposed rule, the companies will be inspecting their own products. "Inspectors need to be impartial – and not be concerned about company profits, they need to be independent – and not be employed by the company, and they need to be looking out for the consumer – and not be looking out for the company," Painter said. He noted that FSIS inspectors have the ability to be impartial because they do not have monetary gain behind the inspection process. FSIS inspectors want to help consumers rather than raise private company profits.

The proposed rule also requires the use of chemicals to kill bacteria in the poultry, such as salmonella. However, the long-term effects of these chemicals on human consumers are unknown. If something happens due to reduce food quality, "we will be held responsible," Painter said. "They will throw us under the bus." [my emphasis]
The late, great Molly Ivins and co-author Lou Dubose in their book Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America (2005):

... the Republican Party is the part of unregulated meat and poultry. That is not a partisan charge; it is a statement of fact. The Republicans win elections in the "red states" in the center of the country, where cattle and chickens are produced and slaughtered. Democrats win their elections in the "blue states" on the coasts. Republicans use the USDA to pay off their contributors from the red states. The result of that crude electoral calculus is laissez-faire good-safety policy whenever a Republican is in the White House. (If you must eat while the R's control the White House, both houses of Congress and the judiciary, you might want to consider becomin a vegetarian about now.)
But with Obama's commitment to achieving postpartisan harmony, his Administration wants to start sharing that ugly distinction with the Republican Party.

This is a very strong tendency within the Obama Administration. Until Obama learns that he has to be more worried about opposition and disruption of the harmonious national consensus he seeks by progressives than by conservatives, this tendency will continue. And do a lot of damage. When Obama has to be more concerned that the Progressive Caucus in Congress will turn on him on an issue like this than he is worried about the Blue Dogs supporting him, then this will begin to change.

Obama is good at producing progressive-sounding rhetoric when he has to. He's been doing more of it lately as he moves into campaign mode. But he's also been using it on issues like eliminating oil industry tax breaks that he knows it is virtually unthinkable that the Republican House will pass this year. But these USDA regulations are something he can affect directly. And in this case he's ... moving to let the poultry industry inspect itself.


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