Feds: Poison Chicken Approved, Cantaloupe Farmers Jailed

sick chicken

This chicken is safe to eat. Just handle while wearing a biohazard suit, in a negative-pressure, double-sealed room, and cook for several days at 900 degrees.[See also: Handling the Ebola Virus for Dummies] (Photo by amslerpix/Flickr)

When 33 people died and hundreds were sickened from eating cantaloupe contaminated with listeria, the owners of the farm involved were hauled into court in handcuffs and charged with six criminal offenses. When hundreds of people were sickened by salmonella in chicken — seven different strains of salmonella, all resistant to antibiotic treatment — from a chicken plant that did the same thing last year, nothing happened. No prosecutions, not even a recall of the contaminated chicken. It’s being suggested that the latter outbreak is not being dealt with because of the government shutdown, but the real reason is far worse than that.

Chickens have better lobbyists than cantaloupes. The chicken lobbyists have succeeded for years in preventing the US Department of Agriculture from classifying drug-resistant salmonella as an adulterant in chicken so that recalls could be required. (The worst the USDA can do is to request a voluntary recall.) They have also advanced a plan, that is on the verge of final approval, that would turn over the inspection of chicken slaughter lines to employees of the processor who will  have one-third of a second to “inspect” each carcass. In tests, they have frequently missed diseased and/or feces-covered chickens flying past them on the line.

But the chicken lobbyists’ real triumph came back in 2001 when they took a case before the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. A company called Supreme Beef had been caught repeatedly with product contaminated by salmonella, and the USDA wanted to shut them down. The court said no — on the grounds that normal cooking practices made the meat safe. Apparently, “medium rare” is not legally normal, and the counter-tops, cutting boards, utensils, dishes, cloth and hands the meat touches before normal cooking methods are applied, do not count.

This codified in law the remarkable, unprecedented caveat emptor deal the meat industry has imposed on largely unsuspecting customers: we producers will sell you consumers product that will poison you if you eat it, will contaminate anything you let it touch in your home. It is your responsibility to heat it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. We have no responsibility.

Thank heavens we have government oversight. That would be the USDA, whose assistant administrator said this when asked why, since they know 300 people have been poisoned by chicken from Foster Farms (and nearly half of them required hospitalization), the USDA has done nothing:

“We had data suggesting Foster Farms was producing product associated with the illnesses but we were not able to associate that with any particular time in which the product was produced or day of production. From the perspective of what was happening in the facility, we did not feel that we had the type of support we needed to make that determination.”

That’s a quote. Honest to God.

So Foster Farms — the chicken producer who advertises that its chickens are grown “naturally,” are “fresh,” and “family owned,” continues to ship product riddled with a bacteria that can give you food poisoning that doctors may not be able to treat. Meanwhile in Denver,  John Walsh, the federal prosecutor handling the cantaloupe caper enunciated this principle: food processors “bear a special responsibility to ensure that the food they produce and sell is not dangerous to the public.”

Go figure.

See also: It’s Official: Most Supermarket Meat a Biohazard.

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4 Responses to Feds: Poison Chicken Approved, Cantaloupe Farmers Jailed

  1. colinc says:

    Nice article, Tom, and I concur that hypocrisy and irrationality “rule the day”… and have for way too many days (years!), especially in the USA. However, in your first paragraph, 2nd sentence, third word from end is “year” and I think you mean(t) “month.”

  2. Tom Lewis says:

    No, there was a separate investigation last year. Thanks for caring….

  3. Michael says:

    Excellent piece showing how we are ruled by lobbyists whispering in the ear of our elitist politicians and lining their campaign coffers. What is especially troubling is that each successive administration bows more to lobbyists than their predecessors and the same is true of Congress. All of this despite campaign promises (lies is more accurate) that they will not invite lobbyist into their camp or even be swayed by them. In reality the administration is full of them now masquerading as public servants. And, as the cost to campaign to stay in the Congress rises, these folks are accepting more industry funding as they sell a little more integrity of whatever they have left. The system is rigged against consumers. All one has to do is think about companies like Monsanto… I don’t know what it will take to start to change it, but I do know that it will not start with our politicians, instead it will begin when people get concerned and mad enough to demand honest change, not just change. Toward that end, I wish more people would read pieces like this and begin to get outraged.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      It’s been a long time since any situation demonstrated that votes can beat money. It is still possible, but it requires motivated voters. And it requires turning off the TV and going into the streets. So it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Unless. of course, the government stops sending out benefit checks next month.