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Another federal failure

About once a year in recent years a newspaper has published a horror story about poultry inspection in the United States. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did the story again recently from the perspective of the inspectors, which revealed howfar the U.S. Department of Agriculture has retreated from its duty to protect consumers from unsafe chicken.

Of course, the department insists it is doing its job well. Lester Crawford, who oversees all meat inspection, told the Journal-Constitution that inspections were "better than ever."

But consider the words of William Freeman, 58, an inspector at the Gold Kist processing plant in Ellijay, Ga. He sits for eight hours a day looking at chicken carcasses pass in front of him at a rate of one every two seconds.

"The oath I took to be an inspector said if I ever saw anything wrong, like a problem with a bad product, I was supposed to report it," he told the newspaper. "But today I can't report anything. Today, if you blow the whistle, you're in trouble with the inspection service. I feel the oath I took is violated every day I work by the program we have."

The newspaper interviewed 84 federal poultry inspectors. Forty-eight of them, working at 24 different plants, told reporters that when they slow down or stop production lines they were regularly rebuked and harassed by their own supervisors and company officials.

The executive branch apparently has deregulated the inspection of poultry. Congress should investigate why the Agriculture Department is not doing its job.

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