10. SOMETHING FOUL IN THE CHICKEN INDUSTRY AND THE USDA

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.

While 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."

Gag 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" image."

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 industry.

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 HOUSE"
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.