Where have you gone, Upton Sinclair?

Policy wonks, journalists, and consumer activists all hail Upton Sinclair as their own hero and role model since his muckraking expose of the American meat-packing industry, “The Jungle.” But how much has really changed since the inspirational (if nauseating) book was published 94 years ago?

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Not much, according to the GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT’s new report, which slams new federal rules on meat inspection implemented last year by the Clinton administration. The new guidelines set up what amounts to an honor system, moving accountability for meat safety out of government inspectors’ hands and to the meat-processing companies themselves. Now, according to a press release from PUBLIC CITIZEN and the GAP, agribusiness is pushing to privatize meat inspection entirely, with the presumption (on which all privatization theories usually rest) that private monitoring will work because what’s good for the consumer is good for business.

But that’s just not true: Inspectors interviewed for the report said they allow more meat contaminated with vomit and feces to pass by under the new dictates than they had under the previous guidelines, and that company-employed inspectors were sometimes threatened with firing if they acted on violations which could expose the company to legal problems.