Friday, May 28


Now it looks as though our health guardians are afraid of finding any form of dangerous contamination: A recent memo on the new HACCP food safety rules informs inspectors that the USDA will not reimburse them for travel expenses or give them time off to attend an educational session that's been scheduled during weekday working hours. Here's the money quote: "The memo says inspectors are free to attend a separate session on Saturday that is intended for industry personnel, but cautions 'seating preference will be given to the industry.'"

This wry piece by Steve Mitchell slams the USDA's bogus excuses up against the wall with deadpan reporting: The USDA spokesman says the meeting was on a workday because "it would be more convenient for the inspectors rather than taking up their time in the evening," whereas "The industry meeting was scheduled for the weekend because 'a lot of companies find it easier to do these workshops on Saturday than they do during the work week.'" Steve Mitchell blithely notes the evasiveness: "Asked if a weekend meeting also might be more convenient for agency employees, Baun [completely changed the subject]."

Later Mitchell spells out what should be obvious: USDA inspectors need the training more than industry employees "because they oversee the companies to ensure they are conducting the HACCP tests in an appropriate way and often help the plant employees understand what the regulations require of them."

It all wraps up in a classic wry juxtaposition. "The CDC recently reported a 36 percent reduction in E. coli infections as well as drops in illnesses associated with other pathogens, an announcement that was hailed by the USDA and the meat industry as evidence the HACCP program was effective." Then: "The same week of the CDC announcement, however, the meat company Excel recalled 22 tons of beef due to possible E. coli contamination." Well, yeah.

But here's the REAL kicker - this whole we-don't-want-you-to-learn-how-to-find-pathogens-so-we'll-make-it-egregiously-hard approach to scheduling? Casually tossed off in the middle of the story:

USDA spokesman Matt Baun "said a similar approach had been used for training sessions on mad cow disease testing."

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