I just got off a conference call press conference with the UFCW Union. I'll have more to say about the latest Rubashkin scandal shortly. In the meantime, here is the Forward's coverage of the new scandal:
…The AgriProcessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, received 250 non-compliance records from the United States Department of Agriculture during 2006, five of them for inadequate safeguards against Mad Cow disease, and multiple others for fecal matter in the food production area. While the entire beef, poultry and egg industry had 34 recalls in 2006, AgriProcessors had two during the last eight months, both of them Class I, the highest risk level.
In both March and September of 2006 the USDA sent the AgriProcessors plant manager a “Letter of Warning” reviewing a series of problems. At the end of the three-page letter in September, the inspector wrote that the slaughterhouse’s efforts to correct the problems had been “ineffective.” The letter concluded: “these findings lead us to question your ability to maintain sanitary conditions, and to produce a safe and wholesome product.”…
The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has been attempting to unionize the workers at the Postville plant. The documents all stem from incidents between January 1, 2006 and January 24, 2007. …
The 250 USDA non-compliance records given to AgriProcessors during 2006 vary from benign matters of protocol to what the inspectors term “very serious” violations.
There were at least 18 records in which AgriProcessors was cited for having fecal matter on the animals being prepared. During the last 10 days of December, after AgriProcessors had received its letter of warning, it received six warnings for fecal matter. On December 26, the inspector wrote that during multiple checks of 10 chickens “fecal contamination varied between 70 and 80%.” Other problems, including bile contamination, were noted at the time. After a number of warnings, the inspector wrote that “further planned actions have either not been implemented or have not been effective.”
The inspector issued another similar citation a day later.
There were also at least five instances in which AgriProcessors was cited for not taking the required measures to fend off Mad Cow disease. In one instance, an inspector says he asked for a suspicious cow to be taken off the line and later discovered that the cow had been slaughtered with the rest of the animals. The inspector says he informed someone at the company of the “very serious noncompliance that had occurred.”
It is not immediately clear how these statistics compare to those at other similarly sized slaughterhouses. The company did have two major recalls within the last eight months, which can be compared with the 35 recalls made in the entire meat, poultry and egg industry during 2006.
In January of this year AgriProcessors recalled 35,000 pounds of beef due to mislabeling that did not mention egg albumen. Most recently, in July, 2,700 pounds of hot dogs were recalled due to “possible underprocessing.” Both of these were Class I recalls, which are made when there is a “reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.”
The JTA reporter at the conference seemed very concerned about the union's motive and not at all concerned about the health and safety violations at Agriprocessors. The JTA reporter asked almost as a statement rather than a question, "Aren't you endangering jobs" by publicizing this information? ""Isn't it out of your purview" to be dealing with violations at a plant that is not unionized? None of the other Jewish newspaper reporters who asked questions seemed conversant with the issues. This says volumes about was passes for Jewish journalism in America.
(The Forward's story was posted during – or just moments before – the conference and the Forward had already interviewed the union representatives and the USDA. In other words, my criticism does not extend to the Forward.)
The USDA material attached below shows that Rubashkin was caught on at least two occasions slaughtering animals over 30 months of age without properly tagging them. Animals over 30 months of age are more likely to have BSE (Mad Cow Disease). Their carcasses are handled differently than younger cattle, and all spinal and brain matter is removed and disposed of. If animals are improperly tagged or not tagged, the precautionary measures to prevent the spread of BSE are not taken.
Inspectors cannot be in all places at all times. If these BSE violations were caught twice in such a short time, it is probable that many other BSE violations took place but were not caught by USDA FSIS inspectors.
This means you and your family may have eaten meat that was not handled in a manner meant to prevent the spread of BSE.
The same holds true for meat contaminated with fecal and bile matter and foreign objects.
A spokesman for the USDA's FSIS says the plant is now "in compliance."
All I can tell you is the front line inspectors would love to do more to stop this type of dangerous and negligent behavior from plant owners like Rubashkin. Unfortunately, their political-level bosses at the Bush USDA don't seem see it that way. Imagine Alberto Gonzales watching over the safety of your food supply when the purveyors of that supply are his friends and the friends of the President.
Here is the entire UFCW Union report:
Here are the USDA FSIS documents that make up the basis for the UFCW charges: