Public Citizen Workplace Safety Expert
During the Progressive Era, President Theodore Roosevelt sent a team of inspectors to Chicago’s meatpacking
industry in response to Upton Sinclair’s graphic novel The Jungle.Sinclair’s famous account depicted the gruesome conditions inside of meatpacking facilitates. After the inspectors reported deplorable conditions, Congress passed the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) which Roosevelt signed into law on June 30, 1906. Strong regulations to implement the law and protect both workers and the public followed.
Government regulations such as the FMIA have paved the way for healthy food consumption and production in the United States and have influenced agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration. For the past 106 years, the FMIA has helped enable all Americans to enjoy meat and poultry safely in their homes.
But now, the Obama administration has placed the Meat Inspection Act in the regulatory crosshairs. Newly proposed regulations by the Obama administration’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) would let poultry companies conduct their own inspections of chickens and dramatically boost the number of birds threat workers must process each hour. According to the American Federation of Government Employees, “The proposed rule places emphasis on quantity and quickness over quality.”
The FMIA provides safeguards for consumers, helps ensure uncontaminated meat for consumers and sets reasonable rates for proper meat inspection on the production line. With this rule change, there is no doubt that the intent of the FMIA is being undermined. According to Priyanka Pathak of Georgians for Pastured Poultry, “Worker health and safety is a significant problem in poultry industry processing plants, where workers use repetitive motions 20,000 to 30,000 times a day on an assembly lines used to process, on average, 200,000 birds per day.” If the proposed rules are adopted, workers can expect even harsher working conditions.
The Jungle became required reading for High School students for a reason; the lessons learned should not be forgotten. The administration would do well to remember and keep these key consumer and worker protections intact.
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