TAMING THE JUNGLE
JULY 9, 1996
An inspection system that has protected the nation's meat supply since 1906 will soon be replaced with modern, scienctific methods. Instead of an inspection service based on visual examinations, packing plants will test forE. coli, salmonella and other contaminants. The United Stated Department of Agriculture's overhaul of the meat safety procedures is the most sweeping since inspections began in response to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle back in 1906.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: President Clinton announced vast changes in the meat inspection system last weekend when many Americans were barbecuing hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken. The changes were the focus of his radio address on Saturday.
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the new inspection procedures with Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Parents should know that when they serve a chicken dinner, they're not putting their children at risk. Our new food safety initiative will give families the security to know that the food they eat is as safe as it can be.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The new measures move way beyond current Agriculture Department inspection methods which rely on observing, poking, and sniffing meat to determine its safety. Beginning this summer, the nation's 6,000 slaughtering and processing plants will be required to implement a more scientific method of controls to prevent and contain contamination. The new inspection standards require individual companies:
In addition, inspectors from the Department of Agriculture will for the first time begin comprehensive salmonella testing in both beef and poultry plants. New inspection standards represent the most sweeping change since Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act in 1906. That was prompted by public outrage at the filthy slaughterhouses described in Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle that year.
- to identify critical points in their own factories where meat could be contaminated and develop means to prevent it
- conduct tests for E. coli bacteria, an indicator of fecal contamination
- meet new federal standards for reducing salmonella contamination, and
- improve sanitation procedures.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This year's changes also stem partly from public pressure. Four children died and hundreds of other people became ill after eating hamburgers at Jack in the Box restaurants in the Pacific Northwest in 1993. Parents of children affected launched a campaign to improve the safety of the nation's meat.
DOROTHY DOLAN: (1993) There have to be more stringent laws, more stringent guidelines for it. You know, the government has to do--USDA has to do something about it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Then Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy said his Department's inspectors were doing their job right but that was not enough.
MIKE ESPY, Former Agriculture Secretary: (1993) Our present inspection system is based primarily on visual examination. We must now begin to focus our attention on the problem of harmful pathogens which are not detectable by visual inspection.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Agriculture Department estimates that nearly 5 million Americans become ill and more than 4,000 die each year from food poisoning. Still, it took more than three years for the USDA, consumer groups, and industry to hammer out the new methods of inspection. The new standards which will be phased in over the next three and a half years are expected to cost companies between $80 and $100 million annually and consumers about 1/10 of a cent per pound on meat products