It's become a Thanksgiving tradition: The President of the United States appearing in the White House Rose Garden to pardon a live turkey so the bird is spared from being part of the feast. This year, the Obama White House really got into the tradition. They created a Facebook page to allow all of us to decide whether a 40 pound turkey named Cobbler or one named Gobbler would forever avoid the butcher's knife.
But, this silly PR stunt isn't fooling food safety advocates. Cobbler and Gobbler were donated by the corporate giant Cargill from a grower in Rockingham County, Virginia. These two birds may never see the inside of the slaughterhouse, but tens of thousands of their kind did, and will soon be on consumers' dining room tables. And, documents obtained by Food & Water Watch through a FOIA request paint the filthy story of the inside of Cargill's processing plant in Dayton, VA. Your stomach will turn reading the USDA inspection reports. Here are just a few excerpts from the poultry inspectors' notes:
"...while performing a scheduled Food Safety Verification test...I observed fecal material on bird eight of my ten bird random test." (3/23/11)
"I observed fecal material on the lef side of the thigh, near the knee joint of the tenth carcass of a random ten carcass test. The fecal material was approximately 3/8" in diameter, dark green, and had a pasty consistency." (4/21/11)
"The fecal [material] was located inside of the carcass at the opening cut at the keel bone. ...It spanned approximately two inches in width across the keel bone and approximately one and a half inches in length...A smear of approximately a half inch was observed also on the edge of the left fat flap. The fecal material was green in color and was of a pasty consistency." (5/11/11)
"I observed fecal material on bird number seven of my ten bird random sample. The fecal was located no the back of the right hock. The fecal material measured approximately 3/16 of an inch in length, light green in color and of a mucoid consistency." (6/10/11)
For each of these gag-inducing observations, the inspectors also noted the specific federal USDA food safety regulation that Cargill was violating. A frequent violation was 9 CFR 381.65(e) which states "Poultry carcasses contaminated with visible fecal material shall be prevented from entering the chilling tank."
But the filthy story gets worse.
This Cargill plant is operating under a USDA pilot project that the Obama Administration claims is a model for a "modernized poultry slaughter inspection" program. (We've written about it (here, here) as have others (here, here)). Under the "HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project" (HIMP), as its called, the number of federal poultry inspectors would be significantly reduced, assembly line speeds would increase from 90 birds-per-minute (bpm) to as fast as 175 bpm, and inspection duties would shift to the poultry company. No wonder there's poop on the poultry.
To-date, there are 20 chicken processing plants, five hog slaughtering operations, and five turkey processing plants, including the Cargill plant in Dayton, VA, using this HIMP model. USDA would like to shift all poultry processing to it.