There's a lot of hubbub about potentially furloughing all USDA meat inspectors for two weeks beginning on March 1. My friend Jenny, who has spent countless days working in her family's meat locker, wrote a fantastic post about the potential impact of no inspectors in the meat plant for two weeks. Please go read it, she's very smart and well-versed and one heck of a great lady!
While reading through the comments on her post (and adding a few of my own), I noticed that a few readers seemed to be missing the point. While I agree that the potential furlough could very well be a political ploy to get Congress to increase the budget (tsk, tsk) I think it's important that every meat eater be aware of the critical role inspectors play in our meat supply - from slaughter to sales.
To explain this, I'll be referencing the Federal Meat Inspection Act. I won't be explaining each and every subheading from the FMIA in detail but if you want to look at it in its entirety, feel free to do so.
1. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, it is required by law that all animals that are sent to be slaughtered be inspected by a federal USDA meat inspector for signs of disease or illness. 603(b)
2. Livestock or horses (including sheep, goats, poultry, swine, cattle, and mules) that are found to have disease or injury are set apart and slaughtered separately; they are not to enter the food supply. 603 (b)
3. After slaughter and exsanguination, during which a USDA inspector is present to ensure all animals are slaughtered humanely, carcasses are inspected several times during processing and break down by the inspector. Once approved, they are stamped with a non-toxic ink stamp to show that the animal has been inspected and approved by USDA food safety guidelines and a licensed inspector. If a part of a carcass, or a whole carcass, does not pass inspection it is condemned (and stamped with a condemn stamp) and then disposed from the human food supply in the presence of the inspector. (604)
A close up of an Inspected and Passed
4. All meat food products are inspected by USDA inspectors before they leave the plant or processing facility. This is true not only for slaughter plants but also meat processing facilities such as rendering, salting or canning as well. Products not fit for human consumption are marked as condemned and removed from human food supply (606). This goes for meat that stays in the domestic US food supply but also for meat exported to other countries.
5. Inspectors not only closely watch the quality and cleanliness of slaughter and meat processing but also are keeping a keen lookout for negligence in the sanitation of plants. If any product is found to be adulterated, it is condemned and disposed of forthwith. (608)
This FMIA is a very long document and outlines a lot of things but I just wanted to highlight the points that I think are pertinent to this specific conversation. The above five topics outline the process by which we know our meat is safe to eat because it's been inspected continually and repeatedly. I have eaten meat that was slaughtered and prepared in less regulated markets outside the U.S. and I will attest that I did not have a pleasurable eating experience. Quality assurance is a must.
- Livestock CANNOT be slaughtered without inspectors present. So, no inspectors = no slaughter.
- You guessed it, no slaughter = no deceased livestock = no meat products.
- No meat products for two weeks will mean an eventual decrease in supply and an eventual hike in meat prices. All meat prices - pork, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, horse... wait, we don't slaughter horses in the U.S right now even though we technically can. Find out about that here. Basically, if a meat locker or facility is federally inspected, during sequestratoin that facility won't be able to slaughter livestock if the inspectors aren't present.
UPDATE: Thank you to readers who pointed out that the furloughs might not take place on March 1, furloughs may take place in the form of hourly time off and that USDA employees will have 30 days notice before a furlough occurs. However, this post is meant to outline the importance of inspectors and how things can't operate if they aren't on duty. Thanks to Heather T and Angie W for pointing out those facts!
Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~