Who’s inspecting your meat? Some days maybe nobody

Photo: Daniel Heighton (iStock)

There’s a severe shortage of U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors in meat-packing plants, meaning that many inspectors are overworked and some shifts have no one to oversee the logistics of food safety, a nine-month investigation by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

As reported by Iowa Public Radio, “adequate oversight of meat processing has become all but impossible.”

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The investigation found that, as of March, 700 federally funded meat and poultry inspection positions were vacant. That means some inspectors have had to cover two or three times their normal workload, and some shifts are going unsupervised by consumer safety inspectors, who check for food safety and sanitation. Slaughterhouses sometimes receive advance notice of these uncovered shifts, which is an invitation to cut corners.

The USDA, of course, denies that there are problems and representatives have suggested that the complaints have been instigated by unions and pro-union lobbyists. The agency is planning to attract more new inspectors by reducing its requirements for entry-level positions—which could lower the salaries of people who already have those jobs.

None of this is good news for anybody—not the inspectors, who are exhausted (and who knows what kind of decisions they’re making while working long shifts without adequate rest) and certainly not the consumers who are eating the food that comes out of those plants.

This report comes less than a week after the news that the Trump administration has decided to reduce the number of inspectors required at pork plants and put a cap on speed limits of meat through those plants.

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Is this another message from the universe that we should stop eating so much meat?

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About the author

Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.