The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Food poisoning:
The [new] Jungle

Nov 11, 2002

On October 13, Pilgrim's Pride Corporation made food poisoning history. It recalled 27.4 million pounds of chicken products, the largest recall ever, because of contamination in one of its Pennsylvania plants. On November 2, the Jack Lambersky Poultry Co. of New Jersey recalled 200,000 pounds of chicken and turkey because of the same bacteria.

The Pilgrim's Pride plant had been cited by Agriculture Department inspectors 40 times this year. Their reports said "corrective actions were not implemented, not accomplished in a timely fashion, or ineffective." Nonetheless, this plant was never shut down by the Agriculture Department. It continued to work until an outbreak of food poisoning killed seven people and poisoned at least 50 in the U.S. northeast. Only then did the Centers for Disease Control step in and force a recall.

After this scandal, many USDA meat inspectors told reporters about new, weaker rules that prevent inspectors from doing their jobs. An instruction memo issued last May to meat inspectors in Kansas said that inspectors were responsible for any lost production they caused. They were also told to overlook small amounts of animal feces unless the feces had a "fibrous" nature.

Since l998, a new USDA program called HACCP – instituted under the Clinton administration – replaced the old mandatory, hands-on federal inspections. The new program allows meat processing companies to make their own inspections and file their own reports. USDA "inspectors" now inspect more plant paperwork much more often than meat. Some inspectors call HACCP the "Have A Cup of Coffee and Pray" program.

Something is rotten in these packing plants and in Washington DC, and it's not only the meat. Capitalism is taking us back to the early 20th Century – the period Upton Sinclair described in The Jungle.