10. SOMETHING FOUL IN THE CHICKEN INDUSTRY AND THE
The number of cases of salmonella has risen to 2.5 million
a year and led to an estimated 500,000 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths. This
national epidemic was caused by a massive leap in consumer demand for the "healthier
food" of chicken and by a massive failure of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
the chicken industry has grown to a $16-billion-a-year industry, the USDA has
cut its inspection staff, lowered health standards, and cracked down on employees
who try to inform the public about contaminated food.
The relaxed inspection practices -- known as the Streamlined Inspection
System -- are literally maiming workers and killing consumers. The rate
of injury and illness for workers in poultry processing plants is twice
that of textile or tobacco workers and even higher than miners.
The relaxed inspection practices also have led to an increase
in contaminated chicken. In a sworn affidavit, retired USDA inspector Albert Midoux,
described how he was reprimanded for "ordering the shutdown and cleanup of
a room where the maggots were so thick that workers were slipping on the floor."
orders, censorship, and the destruction of documents that contain "bad news"
have become a way of life at USDA. As a top agency official explained in 1985,
after the agency was caught destroying a report that revealed massive amounts
of contaminated food had been approved, the department wants to maintain a "positive"
Dr. Carl Telleen, a retired USDA veterinarian and safe food
crusader, revealed how chicken "carcasses contaminated with feces, once routinely
condemned or trimmed, are now simply rinsed with chlorinated water to remove the
stains." According to Telleen, "thousands of dirty chickens are bathed
together in a chill tank, creating a mixture known as 'fecal soup' that spreads
contamination from bird to bird." Once the feces are mixed with water it
creates what Telleen calls "instant sewage." Equally ironic, consumers
pay for the contaminated mixture every time they buy chicken: up to 15 percent
of poultry weight consists of fecal soup.
While a 1987 "60 Minutes"
expose on fecal soup sparked national coverage and consumer reaction, the USDA
is now pushing for a program that would cut inspections even further and speed
up production lines. After sitting through a briefing on the USDA's new modernization
plan, Food Inspectors Union vice president Dave Carney told agency officials,
"When I started, we used to throw the contaminated bird away. Then, we trimmed
the contamination away. Now, we're rinsing the contamination away. It looks like
we're going to eat contamination away."
In 1906, Upton Sinclair shocked
the public with his description of the Chicago meatpacking industry in "The
Jungle;" the slaughtering practices in the poultry industry today are remarkably
similar. It is time the mass media blew the whistle on the USDA and the poultry
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: DARREN LaMARR
SOURCE: SOUTHERN EXPOSURE P.O. Box 531, Durham, NC 27702
DATE: Summer 1989
TITLE: "CHICKEN EMPIRES" and "THE FOX GUARDING THE HEN
AUTHORS: BOB HALL (Chicken) AND TOM DEVINE (Fox)
COMMENTS: This is the kind of story that takes on more interest
as you become aware of friends or associates who have had a slight touch,
or a worse case, of salmonella poisoning from eating chicken. It also
is an old story. Upton Sinclair first exposed the dangers of the meat
industry with his classic book, The Jungle. But it's a story that doesn't
seem to go away. When "60 Minutes" did a shocking expose of
chicken fecal soup in 1987, it sparked overnight media coverage and
national consumer reaction. Yet, as the cover story of the Summer 1989
issue of Southern Exposure points out, in exhaustive detail, the problem
has only become worse. Darren LaMarr, the student researcher who worked
on this story; was a big fan of fried chicken before he read this story;
he hasn't touched chicken since.