Joel Salatin, a self proclaimed lunatic farmer, is one of many real farmers i enjoy reading. Nearly all of his blog entries, books, speeches, Ted Talks, and all around rantings are nuggets of truth and being politically incorrect (thank goodness!) he proclaims them for all to hear, digest, and test.
Another insightful writer (and personal friend) is the bloke he mentions here, David Schafer.
INSPECTION FARCE is one of his most recent blogs that will be interesting to most consumers.
Anyone who thinks meat and poultry inspection actually makes safe food hasn’t been in a processing facility to see what goes on. Yesterday I toured two of David Schafer’s Plant-in-A-Boxes (PIB) with him here in Vermont and Massachusetts. Founder of Featherman Plucker and quintessential idea man and entrepreneur in the small-scale poultry processing space, he’s one of my greatest sources of inspiration. When we get together, it’s heavenly. I’m flying back home today.
This is a trip I’ve wanted to take for some time because at Polyface we’re starting to bump our non-inspected poultry exemption that allows us to do 20,000 birds per year. The reason we’ve gone this route is because it removes us from the hassle of inspection. Inspection means a government agent tells you when you can start, when you can stop, what is blemished and what is not. It requires substantial paperwork and calibration. But more than that, it doesn’t improve anything and puts you under bureaucratic supervision rather than your own personal brand integrity.
Before anyone retorts “well, not everyone is as honest as you,” let me tell you, the system can be gamed a million different ways. Dishonest people find ways to express dishonesty no matter what you do. For example, to make sure you have a negative E.coli test, you can just dip the sample birds in pure chlorine. If you think “getting by” with a traffic violation is fairly easy, you ain’t seen nothin’ in a processing plant.
David and I have come away from this quick tour of two of his facilities with more questions than answers. Both of us are pretty savvy about regulations and both of us travel extensively and listen to the stories of other small operators around the country. What’s obvious is that the stories don’t jive. Clearly, different inspectors have different interpretations of the regulations.
Same set of rules, but completely different interpretation. This means procedures that work in one area with one inspector do not work in another area. The tragedy is that nobody, I mean nobody, is there to hold the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) accountable. If they write you up with a non-compliance infraction, you dare not complain because if you do, they retaliate. It’s the worst case of emotional extortion you can imagine, and it’s ongoing across the country.
Yesterday we met a new inspector in training and she said the line speeds at the big processors are 1.3 seconds per bird. Yesterday, in these little facilities, inspectors had 10 seconds or more to examine each bird. And yes, I watched them miss a lot–fecal contamination on the carcass, etc. Who spotted it and took care of it? The well-trained employees down the line, that’s who. Their brand reputation was on the line.
The amount of anti-microbials used in the industry is nothing short of epic. The clear prejudice of the FSIS against small plants creates nightmares for small operators. The testing in a small plant is the same as in a big one, meaning that the percentage of birds sampled is exponentially higher in small facilities. It’s a prejudicial and unfair playing field that protects the biggest players.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. When I testified before the U.S. Congress hearings into the meat industry a decade ago, convened by then Congressman Dennis Kucinich, I couldn’t believe my ears at what the head of the FSIS said. He actually touted the progress the FSIS had made in efficiency, measured in pounds of product per inspector hour, due to the fact that so many small facilities had gone out of business. I didn’t know they were inspecting for pounds per hour; I thought it was about food safety. But his testimony let the cat out of the bag, The real goal of the FSIS is to increase through-put per inspector. If that doesn’t make the FSIS a farce for food safety, I don’t know what does.
Have you ever fallen for the duplicitous idea that we need more “government oversight” to insure food safety?