When it comes to our food, we assume that several safety precautions have gone into effect before it arrives at the store for our consumption. We trust facilities to practice good hygiene and process as well as package our meats in the best, most sanitary way possible. We then put our trust into the grocery stores to sell us quality products that aren’t past date and are safe to eat. After all, there are regulations and rules for what can and can’t pass through from the processing plant to our tables. Right?
However, it seems that our trust has been misplaced after recent studies concluded that the meat you purchase might not only contain trace amounts of fecal matter, but that it’s also legal. According to PCRM, or the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the meat you’re consuming could contain trace amounts of fecal matter. And that it’s also legal; or in the very least, a blind eye has been turned to these facilities.
This group is also fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the food we consume is healthy and safe. “We want to make sure that people are not only healthy, but that they’re aware of what could potentially be in their food. Fecal matter that’s present, even if it’s just trace amounts, can have severe and deadly consequences,” the group said.
Not to mention, it’s disgusting to think that the hamburger we consumed might have had a little bit of animal feces buried within it somewhere. Yuck!
The New Jungle
We’d like to think that we’re far removed from the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. In 1904, the journalist turned novelist blew the cover off of how disgusting food processing plants are. The novel was originally designed to bring awareness to the exploited lives and harsh working conditions of immigrants; especially in these types of facilities. However, in his novel Sinclair shocked the world by describing scenes that sounded like they were straight out of a horror movie. “I was aiming for the public’s heart when I wrote The Jungle but it seems that I missed and hit them in the stomach instead,” the author said regarding his book.
In the infamous novel, Sinclair describes the scenes in gory detail: flies circling around piles of stinking, rotting meat, the presence of dead bugs that get swept into the meat as it goes along, sick animals being slaughtered and hung alongside healthy animals, and pus as well as boils that were either removed or left in the mix. “Sometimes the blister was removed and discarded, other times it was left in the meat. Regardless of where it ends up, do you really want to eat something that’s had that on it? The risk of infection becomes much, much higher.”
Sinclair also noticed the animal excrement that was present within the facilities. “Animals would sometimes be slaughtered in their own filth then strung up. Other times, the meat was dangerously close to the piles of filth. And as far as sanitary practices are concerned, there was no hand washing or use of gloves. Carcasses, filth, and live animals were handled rather indiscriminately.”
The book left Sinclair’s audience hungry for change. The exposed health violations and unsanitary practices taking place in America’s meat packing industry resulted in a massive public outcry. This prompted a number of reforms to take place, including the Meat Inspection Act.
Since then, we’ve trusted our meats to be of quality and safe for consumption. However, this apparently isn’t the case anymore. Even though we’re over 100 years removed from Sinclair’s The Jungle, it appears that conditions and rules have once again become lax in the meat packing plants.
No, we aren’t talking about the controversial Robin Thicke song; we’re talking about the possibility that the USDA is turning a blind eye to this sort of thing.
A spokeswoman for the US Department of Agriculture was quick to defend their inspection system. “We have a zero tolerance policy for feces on poultry and meat. It’s not something that we allow or would ever allow to pass from our facility to a store where it can be purchased for consumption,” she said in an interview.
The USDA regularly sends inspectors to various facilities. “Their job is to closely inspect carcass samples chosen at random throughout the production shift. They are looking for fecal matter, blisters, boils, and any number of containments that would make the product unsafe and unfit to eat. They take their job seriously and so do we,” the spokeswoman continued. “Should we find even trace amounts of feces on the animal’s carcass, we ensure that it never makes its way into the food supply. And if our inspectors find repeat infractions, the FSIS takes ‘progressive enforcement action’ against the company.”
With this in mind, it becomes hard to believe that fecal matter really is present within our foods. As discussed below, some have accused the physicians’ group of trying to push their own agenda for a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. However, the Press is quick to point that out flaws with the current inspection policy.
“At current, the USDA’s policy for inspection isn’t good enough. It’s only applied to feces that are visible on the production line; not fecal matter traces that could be present within the meat or hidden on the animal,” they argue. They also point out that the USDA has become lax on its rules regarding the speed at which poultry facilities can process birds. When the rules were first set into place, the facility could process a max of 140 birds per minute. Now, it’s an upwards of 175 birds per minute allowed.
“This means that those doing the inspection would need to scan three birds every second. And they’re doing so with the naked eye. It’s impossible to thoroughly search what’s going down the line in that short amount of time. Thus, fecal matter and other containments can easily be overlooked.”
“There’s also the concern of human error. It’s easy to zone out when doing the same task day in and day out. Think about how many times you’ve been driving only to stop in your driveway and think, ‘did I stop at the red lights?’ The same applies to these plants. You can start out as diligent as you want, but chances are you’re going to slip up. So even if the meat is passing by at a reasonable speed, stuff is likely to slip by,” PCRM argues.
What lies beneath
Of course it’s not just what’s on the surface of the animal that we have to worry about; we also need to be concerned about what’s inside the animal as well.
“Currently, the laws and regulations in place focus on “visible” fecal matter. However, that completely negates what’s going on inside of the chickens; particularly their bowels,” PCRM says. “We had a federal inspector speak to us regarding this matter. They told us that it’s not uncommon to see birds going down the line with their intestines still in place. Obviously there’s fecal matter within the intestines and it’s sitting either right beside or actually attached to meat that you’re going to purchase. And the sad thing is we can’t do anything about it; as long as there’s no visible fecal matter on the bird’s skin, we have to just let it pass down the line. Plus the intestines are literally just dragging microbes and bacteria that you can’t see along the belt. Once the belt cycles back, these microbes can then be transferred to even healthy birds.”
However, the sick factor doesn’t stop there. According to the inspector, the bird then finds itself in a large vat of water, or chill tank, after it has made its way down the line. “In this vat, there are a ton of birds and the water can easily flush out the bowels. In fact, it’s kind of supposed to. Obviously, this means that all of the carcasses in the tank are exposed to fecal matter; and a lot of it. We call this a ‘fecal soup’. And the water obviously isn’t going to kill the microbes or bacteria; it’s only going to spread it.”
There’s also the concern of unseen diseases present with the carcasses. “We can’t always tell if a bird was healthy at slaughter; sometimes it looks just like the rest but it’s actually full of bacteria and disease,” the inspector continued.
Fighting for our food
This product “may contain fecal matter”: a consumer rights advocacy group is pushing to have this label added to many of the packaged meat products we find within the grocery store.
“It’s more of a tongue-in-cheek recommendation,” Deborah Press, who is an attorney for the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine, said. “However, we want to draw awareness to the fact that your meat could potentially have fecal matter in it. And we want to make these plants take responsibility for their actions and improve conditions.” Deborah also notes that by doing this, her group is also drawing awareness to concerns that they have regarding the US Department of Agriculture’s food safety inspection program. “And it’s not just us that should be concerned; the general population should be wary as well.”
Deborah’s organization includes 12,000 physicians who have been arguing the necessity of plant-based diets as well as ethical scientific research since their start. The group has been questioning the presence of fecal matter for at least six years. “We haven’t been able to get much accomplished unfortunately. We’re either ignored, or we’re not taken seriously. It’s difficult to stand up against the USDA; they’re a huge corporation and they’ve earned the trust of many. It’s an uphill battle,” Deborah said.
“Questions like these matter for more than just the ‘obvious’ gross reasons. Of course nobody wants to eat feces because it’s disgusting, but it’s more than that; consuming microbes like E. coli and other bacteria that’s present with fecal matter can cause a number of health issues; even death,” Deborah lamented.
Despite the group’s diligence, PCRM maintains that they’re not getting any straight answers regarding food inspection processes. This prompted the group to send a petition in 2013 to the USDA. In their petition, they requested that rules that apply to fecal contamination be changed. They also suggested that the word “wholesome” should be removed from labels and food categories. “You can’t call something ‘wholesome’ if it contains harmful microbes. It’s misleading,” the group says.
To further support their claims, PCRM ran its own independent study on chicken. They tested a number of chicken products and found that an astonishing 48% tested positive in regards to fecal contamination. Their evidence also referenced a Consumer Reports study that was done prior. The results of the Consumer Reports study were very close in numbers to what PCRM found: “over half of the packages of patties and ground meat tested positive for feces,” the report read. The USDA had no response.
In 2017, PCRM took it a step further after the USDA remained silent and refused to answer questions. The group filed a Freedom of Information Act request. In their request, they asked for a number of records. “We want access to how many USDA poultry inspectors there, the current detection rates for visible fecal matter in poultry, the average poultry inspection line speed, USDA rates of poultry inspection, and training processes for inspection.” Once again, the USDA remained silent and avoided straight forward answers.
On Tuesday, the group decided it had had enough and filed a lawsuit in the federal district court. The lawsuit claims that the USDA violated the Freedom Information act by failing to respond to the request regarding feces contamination rates. According to federal laws, agencies have 20 days with respond to the FOIA. No statements have been released on the pending litigation.
PCRM = the new PETA?
PETA at one point in time was a huge force. The group was responsible for inspiring people to make better lifestyle choices and they were the voice that so many animals desperately needed. However, the group quickly became the butt of nearly everyone’s jokes and the group fell from grace when it was discovered that they were doing more than good.
Now, many are voicing these same concerns in regards to PCRM. Many are concerned that they’re the new PETA; especially given their history of encouraging others to switch to a plant-based diet. Many have even begun to question the legitimacy of the group’s claims. “What evidence is there to support their claims? It’s easy to fake results to swing in your favor; you can purchase meat products from other countries where the standards aren’t as high as our own or you can even fake your own results by contaminating the products themselves.”
Others have even gone as far as to accuse PCRM of furthering its own agenda. “They’re just another PETA organization trying to bully us into following their own lifestyle. They want everyone to quit eating meat and the best way they’ve found to do this is through scare tactics.”
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has actively defended itself against these types of responses, but it has done little to dissuade those that are against them. “We’re looking out for the safety of the American population and we want to raise awareness regarding the products you’re purchasing. And if what we’re publishing sounds like scare tactics, then that’s probably because this is seriously scary, concerning stuff,” Deborah said.
Others have also been quick to step up to the group’s defense. “Do you really think your meat is safe when somebody’s being paid minimum wage or less to eyeball 3 birds a second that pass by for 8+ hours a day?”
Many have also reminded those against the group that insect parts are not also common in food, especially pepper, but there are laws in place that allow for X amount to be present. “Ground pepper samples have confirmed that an average of 475+ insect parts are present within every 50 grams and that’s perfectly legal.”
What are your thoughts?
What are your thoughts regarding the article? Are you completely disgusted and shocked to learn that your favorite meat products could potentially contain fecal matter? Or are you really not all that surprised? We also want to know your thoughts about the current safety regulations. Do you think 175 birds a minute is a reasonable number or should it be drastically lowered? We also want to know what you think about the group of doctors that are fighting to expose this sort of thing. Do you think they’re the new PETA and are just pushing their agenda or do you believe they have our best interests at heart? Let us know in the comments below!