In an attempt to protect the safety of consumers, the USDA is actually making things worse. Changes in food production in the United States, to large scale farming and feeding operations, have created new and formidable public health challenges. An E. coli outbreak, now more common due to the fast-paced and high volume slaughter houses, can spread across the country before it can be detected and traced to the source. In an attempt to protect consumers, the USDA has been piling on new layers of regulation. Ironically, this is only making it more difficult for small-scale farms and slaughter houses to survive. As Joe Cloud writes, [ht: Marion Nestle]
For small meat businesses in America, catastrophic events result from changes high up in the regulatory food chain that make it very difficult for small plants to adapt. The most recent extinction event occurred at the turn of the millennium, when small and very small USDA-inspected slaughter and processing plants were required to adopt the costly Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety plan. It has been estimated that 20 percent of existing small plants, and perhaps more, went out of business at that time. Now, proposed changes to HACCP for small and very small USDA-inspected plants threaten to take down many of the ones that remain, making healthy, local meats a rare commodity.
These small scale operations, just like the ones that used to be common across the country, are the ones that are most resilient to outbreaks:
Small, local meat processors have always supported food safety. At our plant, we have had a functioning HACCP plan since 1999, and it works. We undergo extensive E. coli testing every year, and we have never had a positive result—ever.
To seriously deal with the issues surrounding food safety, the USDA needs to write rules that accommodate small scale operations. This involves distancing itself from the corporate influence of US agribusiness. Only then will small scale farmers be able to meet the growing demand for local, ecologically smart meat.