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Death of Meat Inspector Highlights Conditions at Nation's Slaughterhouses

By       Message Martha Rosenberg       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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Public Largely Unaware

 

Was Jose Navarro, a federal poultry inspector who died two years ago at the age of 37, a victim of increasingly noxious chemicals used in poultry and meat production? Chemicals like ammonia, chlorine and peracetic acid that are frequently employed to kill aggressive bacteria in meat and poultry?

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Navarro coughed up blood several months before his death, the Washington Post reported last week and died in November 2011 of lung and kidney failure, according to the autopsy report. An OSHA inspector during a subsequent investigation said "the combination of disinfectants and other chemicals" in addition to pathogens such as salmonella "could be causing significant health problems for processing-plant occupants," reports the Post . The plant where Navarro worked and the chicken industry defend the chemicals as safe.

 

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Consumers and food activists often criticize the sped up, barely-regulated operations at commercial slaughterhouses that harm workers and animals in the quest for cheaper meat. But increasingly federal meat inspectors themselves are speaking out about the broken system.


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"My plant in Pennsylvania processed 1,800 cows a day, 220 per hour," and veterinarians were pressured "to look the other way" when violations happened Lester Friedlander, DVM, a federal meat inspector told the Winnipeg Free Press. The reason?   Stopping "the line" cost the plant about $5,000 a minute. Dr. Friedlander was a USDA veterinarian for 10 years and trained other federal veterinarians.

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When Mad Cow Disease was first a US threat in 1991, Friedlander says a USDA official told him not to say anything if he ever discovered a case and that he knew of cows that had tested positive at private laboratories but were ruled negative by the USDA. Friedlander told United Press International that the USDA attempted to force him out after he alleged, on national TV, that meat from downer cows supplied the national school lunch program. His charge proved true and led to the biggest meat recall in US history.

 

National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the union that represents meat and poultry inspectors in federally regulated slaughterhouses, also spoke out about Mad Cow Disease risks. In a letter to the USDA in 2004, the union said that cattle parts that could give humans the disease were "being allowed into the production chain." Heads and carcasses of cattle over 30 months old sailed through slaughter and processing lines, said the whistle blowing inspectors. "We couldn't determine that every part out of there was from a cow under 30 months," said Stan Painter, the union's chairman, to MSNBC. "There was no way to determine which one was which." Inspectors were "told not to intervene" when kidneys from older animals were sent down the line to be packed for the Mexican market, which prohibited cows over 30 months, the union charged.   Cows younger than 30 months were considered to pose less Mad Cow Disease risk to humans.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)
 

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