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You Want Urine, Feces and Pus In Your Beef?

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By Joby Warrick


I thought I would put the comment at the beginning this time to give a proper perspective for the following information. Many of you will be amazed, as I was, at the incredible lack of safety implementations that the USDA is imposing and it is literally killing at least 5,000 people in this country every year and making one-third of our population sick every year.

The reason why this is so important is that these deaths will very shortly be highlighted as the reason we should irradiate our beef. After all, how could anyone deny food irradiation when it could save thousands of peoples lives???

Folks, this is a lie from hell and it will be used to justify food irradiation. If food irradiation becomes widespread, it will contribute to the exponential decline in health that our country is experiencing.

You might say, "How is this possible?"

Well, I had the great privilege of participating in a small group of local activists in which Dr. Samuel Epstein explained this in detail. He is one of the most prominent scientists in the country in many aspects of cancer issues. He has extensive literature and documentation, much of which has been previously posted on this site, explaining how food irradiation will create toxic products that humans have never been seen and are clearly implicated in cancer promotion.

Also, see his website, www.preventcancer.com for more information.

The E. coli deaths will be used by the food irradiation industry and many beef industry experts as a justification to continue their factory farming methods. The central issue here is the decline in the hygiene standards in the transport, slaughtering and processing of the animals.

Currently, large percentages of animals are contaminated when their intestines are punctured and stool spills onto the meat that is being processed.

This is where the problem lies, NOT in proper cooking. If a restaurant receives meat that is filled with stool they would have to incinerate the meat to destroy the amount of E. coli present. The problem is NOT with the cooking of the beef or the restaurants, it is primarily with the slaughterhouses and the USDA that is not properly enforcing the rules.

Will food irradiation work? If done properly, it will absolutely work. But, again, the answer is NOT to expose your food to radiation to kill bugs that are present because the food was not slaughtered properly.

The food irradiation industry will very likely be changing the term "irradiation" to "cold pasteurization" very shortly, in order to give off a better public perception.

Irradiation is not a panacea to killing food-borne pathogens. It cannot kill viruses, such as hepatitis and Norwalk virus. And, while irradiation does kill certain harmful microorganisms, it does nothing to remove the feces, urine and pus that often sullies meat in the slaughterhouse.

Consumers do not want to eat filth, whether it's been irradiated or not. Americans demand and deserve fresh, wholesome, safe food that has been grown and processed in clean environments.

The bottom line is that irradiation will not make food cleaner. It merely masks unhygienic slaughtering and processing practices, while corrupting nutritional integrity, big time.

Beef-Inspection Failures Let In a Deadly Microbe

Nearly a century after Upton Sinclair exposed the scandal of America's slaughterhouses in his novel "The Jungle," some of the nation's largest meatpacking plants still fail to meet federal inspection guidelines to produce meat free of disease-carrying filth, an investigation by The Washington Post and Dateline NBC has found.

U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors who patrol the nation's 6,000 meatpacking plants today are armed with more modern tools and tougher standards than ever. But the government's watchdog agency often has lacked the legal muscle and political will to address serious safety threats. It cannot impose civil fines or recall meat even when its inspectors see problems that could lead to outbreaks.

In a Milwaukee case, one of the nation's largest, most modern meatpacking plants - Excel Corp.'s Fort Morgan, Colo., facility - was cited 26 times over a 10-month period before someone died as a result of letting feces contaminate meat, documents show. Despite new government controls on bacteria launched three years ago, the plant shipped out beef tainted with E. coli on at least four occasions.

"It was like making Fords without brakes," said Michael Schwochert, a veterinarian and retired federal inspector who worked at the Excel plant. "We used to sit around the office and say,

'They're going to have to kill someone before anything gets done.',"

Excel officials said they were unable to talk about the Milwaukee outbreak, citing litigation. In a statement, Excel said it uses cutting-edge technology to prevent contamination, but food must be properly cooked and handled to ensure safety. "Excel is committed to providing safe food for people," the company said.

Criticism of the USDA's enforcement record comes as domestic E. coli outbreaks and epidemics of mad-cow and foot-and-mouth disease in Europe heighten concerns about America's meat supply. Contamination similar to that found at Excel was documented at several other plants around the country in an internal agency report a month before the Milwaukee outbreak.

The USDA's inspector general, in a sharply critical review of the agency's inspection system, said the government's safety net for consumers was being compromised by confusing policies, blurred lines of authority and a lack of options for enforcement. At some plants, regulators frequently were finding tainted beef but doing nothing because they simply "were unaware of any actions to take," the report said.

"How long does it take for a 'bad' plant to be listed as bad? We can't tell you," USDA Inspector General Roger Viadero said in an interview, "because [the USDA] has not told the inspector what's bad."

A Safer System?

The internal struggle over beef quality at the Excel plant would likely have never attracted public attention were it not for two headline-generating events.

The first came in August 1999 with the chance discovery - in a USDA random survey - of E. coli in Excel beef at an Indiana grocery store.

The second was the Milwaukee E. coli outbreak last summer. In one of the worst such incidents in state history, more than 500 people got sick, 62 with confirmed E. coli infections.

What happened between the two incidents starkly illustrates how problems at modern meat plants test the limits of the USDA's new inspection and meat safety system.

Located on a dry plain 80 miles northeast of Denver, the Excel factory is an imposing agglomeration of smokestacks and aircraft hangar-sized buildings covering 2 million square feet. The only outward sign that the plant produces beef is the line of trucks delivering cattle to the stockyard. That, and the ubiquitous smell - cow manure with a hint of decaying meat.

Inside, much of the butchering is done the old-fashioned way, by workers using various sorts of knives. At the front of the line is the "knocker," who uses a pistol-like device to drive a metal bolt into the steer's head - the law requires that animals be rendered insensible to pain before slaughtering. Another worker slits the animal's throat to drain the blood. Others in turn remove limbs, hide and organs.

At line speeds of more than 300 cattle per hour, things frequently go wrong. Organs tear and spill their contents. Fecal matter is smeared and splattered.

The presence of fecal matter greatly increases the risk of pathogens, which is why USDA inspectors enforce a "zero-tolerance" policy for fecal contamination on meat carcasses. Meat smeared with fecal matter is supposed to be pulled off the line and cleaned by trimming.

But there is no law that requires raw meat to be free of pathogens; the exception is for ground beef. Thus, raw meat must carry a label that specifies it must be properly cooked.

In 1993, the Jack in the Box food poisonings on the West Coast killed four children and awakened Americans to E. coli 0157, a mutant bacterial strain that lurked in undercooked ground beef. Three years later, the Clinton administration officially scrapped a century-old system that relied on the eyes and noses of federal inspectors - called "poke and sniff" - in favor of a preventative system of controls developed by the industry with federal supervision.

That system, supported by food safety experts and many consumer groups, was called the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system, or HACCP (pronounced hass-ip). Under HACCP, companies create their own plans for addressing safety threats - a "hazard analysis" - and their own methods of dealing with threats - "control points."

The theory is that hazards arise at many points in the production process, and steps can be taken to minimize risks from pathogens. The measures can range from lowering room temperatures to dousing meat with a chlorine rinse to kill germs.

In a nod to consumer groups, HACCP introduced mandatory testing for microbes for the first time. Plants would be subjected to testing for salmonella and a benign form of E. coli, but not the deadly E. coli 0157:H7.

Three years into HACCP implementation, the reviews are decidedly mixed. The rate for deadly E. coli illness remains steady, with 73,000 people stricken and 61 killed a year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But a steady decline in disease rates for salmonella and several other pathogens since 1996 has prompted UDSA officials and many consumer groups to declare HACCP a major success.

"The nation's food supply is safer than ever," Thomas J. Billy, administrator of the Food Safety Inspection Service, said in a statement in response to questions about HACCP's performance. "Our data shows the level of harmful bacteria has been markedly reduced."

But Pathogens Remain A Major Concern.

The USDA estimates that salmonella is present in 35 percent of turkeys, 11 percent of chickens and 6 percent of ground beef. Each year, food-borne pathogens cause 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths, according to the CDC.

According to critics, gaps in HACCP still allow too many pathogens to slip through.

The report by the USDA's inspector general last summer said meat companies were manipulating the new system to limit interference from inspectors. For example, by their placement of control points, plants can effectively dictate which parts of the process inspectors can fully monitor.

Viadero said the agency was "uncertain of its authorities" and had "reduced its oversight short of what is prudent and necessary for the protection of the consumer."

"After what I've seen," Viadero said in an interview, "if my hamburgers don't look like hockey pucks, I don't eat them."

Meat inspectors and consumer groups like HACCP's microbe-testing requirements, but some argue the new system is an "industry-honor system" that puts consumers at greater risk. Under the old system, meat with fecal matter on it was trimmed to remove pathogens. Now, inspectors say, chemical rinses can wash off visible traces of fecal matter without removing all the pathogens.

"It's the biggest disaster I've seen," said Delmer Jones, president of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, which represents most of the government's 7,600 meat inspectors. "We're vulnerable to more deaths and no one seems to care."

Last fall, two Washington watchdog groups, the Government Accountability Project and Public Citizen, released results of an unscientific poll of 451 inspectors. While a majority approved of HACCP in concept, more than three-fourths said their ability to enforce the law had declined.

One inspector scribbled these words:

"HACCP ties our hands and limits what we can do. If this is the best the government has to offer, I will instruct my family and friends to turn vegetarian."

Schwochert, formerly the night shift inspector-in-charge at Excel's Fort Morgan Plant, worked 15 years in private business before joining the USDA. He prided himself on his ability to work with industry, but he felt that HACCP made his job even tougher.

"I've never seen anything so slow to respond," he said.

"Nothing in my professional training or life gave me the tools for dealing with what was going on. It was a calamity of errors. If it weren't so serious, it would be funny."

Showdown at Excel

By the late summer and fall of 1999, Schwochert was accustomed to tussling with Excel's managers over problems ranging from filthy, urine-soaked employee washrooms to occasional findings of fecal matter on carcasses. But the skirmishes intensified dramatically on Sept. 13, after the USDA found E. coli 0157 in a package of Excel beef at the Indiana grocery store.

The discovery, part of a routine survey of grocery stores and meatpacking plants, triggered a series of reviews of the Excel plant's food-safety practices.

The measures began with two weeks of E. coli testing. Inspectors found E. coli - not once but twice, in the first three days of testing. The USDA ordered the contaminated meat seized, but it was too late. Some of the meat had been loaded onto a delivery truck.

"Not only were those samples positive, but that meat had left the plant," Schwochert said. Excel tracked down the truck and returned the meat to the plant.

USDA documents show the combination of E. coli positives and the improper shipment of the contaminated beef prompted the government to impose its harshest sanction: A district supervisor "withheld inspection" from the plant, forcing Excel to shut down for three days. On Sept. 28, the plant reopened under the threat of another suspension if new violations occurred.

They did, but no suspension followed. By Sept. 29, inspectors were finding so much fecal contamination on carcasses that Schwochert said he tried to close the plant again, even though he felt he lacked the authority to do so. At the last minute, the plant's top supervisor agreed to shutter the factory voluntarily for the rest of the day, Schwochert said.

Excel promised to retrain its workers and fine-tune its carcass-dressing system, although details of its plan are considered proprietary information. But more contaminated carcasses turned up two days later, and regularly after that, agency records show:

  • Oct. 1: "Fecal contamination observed . . . sample failed to meet zero-tolerance requirements."
  • Oct. 2: "Identifiable fecal deficiencies on two carcasses (out of 11)."
  • Oct. 4: "Fecal contamination splotched in an area 1 inch by 4 inches . . . carcasses retained."
  • Oct. 9: "Deficiencies were observed on six carcasses (out of 11).

In company memos, Excel responded that the inspectors were focusing on "unrelated" and "isolated" incidents. But USDA district supervisors took a different view. One USDA letter called the company's explanations "incredible, frivolous and capricious." Another specifically suggested Excel was putting its customers at risk.

"In the light of recent E. coli positives, I would think that food safety and preventive dressing procedures would be of utmost importance on your corporate agenda," Dale Hansen, the FSIS's circuit supervisor in Greeley, Colo., wrote on Nov. 29 to Marsha Kreegar, Excel's regulatory affairs superintendent.

USDA's enforcement records contain no response to that letter. Excel has declined to make officials at the Fort Morgan plant available for interviews.

For five months, the USDA chose not to impose new sanctions, despite 14 additional citations for fecal contamination and a host of other problems. Government records also describe mice infestation, grease and rainwater leaking onto meat; unsanitary knives; equipment sullied with day-old meat and fat scraps; and carcasses being dragged across floors.

USDA inspectors asked their supervisors for guidance. How many violations before the plant is suspended again? Three? Five?

"The question was asked by myself or in my presence at least 10 times," Schwochert said, "and we never got a clear answer."

On May 23, the USDA threatened another suspension. "Recent repetitive fecal findings on product produced by your firm demonstrates that the HACCP plan at your facility is not being effectively implemented to control food safety hazards," USDA District Manager Ronald Jones wrote to Excel General Manager Mike Chabot.

Excel was given three days to make changes - then a three-day extension, after Excel's initial proposals proved less than convincing.

Finally, on June 14, based on Excel's promise to improve its process, USDA withdrew its threat with an additional warning. "Your firm will be required to consistently demonstrate that your slaughter process is under control, meeting food-safety standards," the agency wrote.

USDA officials are promising change. After devoting three years to implementing HACCP, the agency is beginning an extensive review to determine how the system can be improved.

Congressional supporters of stronger food safety protections say they will press again this year for a law giving meat inspectors more effective enforcement tools, including the power to impose civil fines and order mandatory meat recalls. But after similar legislation failed in the last three sessions, backers acknowledge their prospects are far from certain.

"The American people would be shocked," said Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and sponsor of several previous bills, "to learn that the USDA does not have the fundamental authority to protect public health."

Washington Post April 9, 2001; Page A01

Related Articles:

Nuclear Lunch: The Dangers and Unknowns of Food Irradiation

The Problems with Irradiated Food: What the Research Says

Food Irradiation Will Be Used To Mask Filthy Slaughtering and Food Processing Practices

Food Irradiation Q&As

SteriGenics: The Untold History

Many in the Scientific Community Are Opposed to Irradiation

The Dangers of Irradiation Facilities

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