'Dangerous Proposal': USDA Seeking to Replace Government Inspectors at Beef Slaughter Plants With Private Employees
By Julia Conley
In an apparent effort to boost profits for meat manufacturers despite potential harms to food safety, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reportedly planning to privatize inspections of beef slaughter plants.
Food and Water Watch reported Monday that the USDA is pursuing deregulation of the food inspection system that has been used for years at beef slaughterhouses. The information came from documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The group released an application from beef, pork, and poultry manufacturer Tyson Foods, in which the company requested a waiver to allow Tyson employees to conduct more inspections at its beef plant in Holcolm, Kansas, instead of relying on USDA food safety inspectors.
"This dangerous proposal could rid beef slaughter plants of most government inspectors," Food and Water Watch said in a statement.
BREAKING: We have obtained documents that confirm the USDA is seeking to privatize inspections of beef slaughterhouses.— Food & Water Watch (@foodandwater) June 10, 2019
This dangerous proposal could rid beef slaughter plants of most government inspectors. https://t.co/jNospAvLYn pic.twitter.com/cbx4fo6lHy
The documents were uncovered after many recent denials by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that it plans to privatize inspections of mass-produced beef, Food and Water Watch stated.
Tyson's proposal comes 21 years after FSIS first launched a pilot program in more than two dozen poultry and pork plants in which government food safety inspectors were replaced by the manufacturers' own inspectors, allowing the companies to regulate themselves.
In 2013, the USDA's inspector general found that the agency "did not critically assess whether the new inspection process had measurably improved food safety at each plant" that produced pork.
The following year, FSIS expanded the program to the entire poultry industry. The agency will not conduct an assessment of the new system's effects on food safety until 2022.
"The previous attempts at privatized inspection have led to weaker food safety performance and are a ploy by the industry to increase line speeds," said Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist with Food and Water Watch.
Despite a lack of evidence that the privatized food safety inspection system is making food safer — and CDC data showing that foodborne illnesses from foods including chicken have been on the rise since 2015 — FSIS is weakening standards in order to increase the speed with which meat is processed, allowing for greater manufacturing profits.
"The Tyson plant in Holcomb, Kansas is approved to operate at the current maximum line speed allowable" said Corbo. "FSIS management has had difficulty meeting its inspection staffing requirements in the past in western Kansas, which has contributed to beef slaughter plants not being able to maintain maximum line speeds. Tyson's solution seems to be to get rid of the government inspectors."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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