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What is the Meat Inspection Act?

By Misty Amber Brighton
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Meat Inspection Act is a U.S. food law that requires animals raised for human consumption be inspected prior to slaughter. It also allows veterinarians to look at the carcasses of animals after they have been killed. This bill also ensures food safety by setting cleanliness standards for both slaughterhouses and establishments that process meats. It was signed into law in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

This legislation requires all animals to be inspected upon arrival at the slaughterhouse. This includes horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and mules. An inspector is appointed for each location by the Secretary of Agriculture. Before being killed, animals showing signs of disease are separated from those that are healthy. This law also makes it mandatory to slaughter creatures in a humane manner, and lists several acceptable methods of doing so.

Those animals that have been identified as carrying a disease and separated from healthy animals are examined by a veterinarian after being killed. This provision also covers how to destroy carcasses that can not be used. It also gives guidelines as to how to label or mark these bodies. Inspectors within the plant often check to make sure this is done properly in order to avoid receiving a notice of violation from a government agency.

The Meat Inspection Act sets standards of cleanliness and sanitation for slaughterhouses and meat processing facilities in order to ensure food safety. It allows agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect these businesses to make sure they are in compliance with this law. Representatives can also halt production in facilities where unsanitary conditions are found. Inspectors might also reject product deemed to have been produced in an unsafe manner.

This bill was signed into law in 1906 by then U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. It was designed to be a companion act to the Pure Food and Drug Act. Both of these statutes were intended to make meat and other foods consumed by humans safe for them to do so.

The Meat Inspection Act makes sure those involved in the meat packaging and processing industry follow strict standards of slaughtering animals and preparing food. Doing so can help keep members of the public safe from possible contamination. It can also give people peace of mind when buying groceries, since they can be sure the meat they purchase has been checked carefully before it was sold.

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Discussion Comments
By anon357634 — On Dec 05, 2013

Who sponsored the original bill? What congressman?

By sweetPeas — On Oct 19, 2011

It's too bad we haven't gotten local farming going a bit more. It would be great if we could go out to a trusted farm that has been raising animals in the pasture, eating grass.

We could see the facility which has been inspected, have the animal slaughtered and packed right away to put in our freezer or a public meat locker.

We would be much more likely to have good quality safe food to eat. I may be a dreamer, but maybe this will be more widespread someday.

By Esther11 — On Oct 19, 2011

I think that the 1906 Meat Inspection Act was long overdue. The conditions in the slaughter houses and meat packing plants were not safe for workers and the meat products were not handled well enough to ensure healthy meat for consumers.

The Meat Inspection Act set up regulations and government inspections regarding the manner of slaughtering an animal, to making sure the meat to be packed is disease-free and packaged under healthful conditions.

I have read of some slaughterhouses and packing plants in the U.S. that are not inspected well. Carelessness in handling the meat and neglecting worker safety standards are sometimes a problem. The government needs to watch and not let this happen.

By JessicaLynn — On Oct 18, 2011

@Monika - If you're nervous about the conditions in slaughterhouses, you should consider buying meat from local farmers. They have to adhere to the standards laid out in the meat inspection act, as well.

Also, most local farms treat their animals way better than factory farms do. Many of them will even let you come take a look around the farm before you purchase anything from them.

By Monika — On Oct 17, 2011

@JaneAir - I'm not surprised most people were more concerned with their food than working conditions. After all, the food affects them personally while the working conditions of other do not!

I actually think we need more stringent regulations than the Meat Inspection act. I've read a few articles about slaughter houses and the meat industry, and I don't think things are done as well as they could be done.

It also seems like a lot of slaughter houses subject the animals to unnecessarily cruel conditions. I'm OK with killing animals for food, but I don't think we need to torture them first, you know?

By JaneAir — On Oct 16, 2011

@gravois - I did a quick search, and this act is tied to the novel "The Jungle." What's interesting though, is that Upton Sinclair originally wrote the book to expose the working conditions, not the conditions of the food! He wanted to people to be concerned with the actual workers, but they ended up being more concerned with the food products.

Anyway, it seems that President Roosevelt wasn't a big fan of Sinclair, so he sent his own representatives to visit meat packing plants. They found that the conditions were, shall we say, undesirable. Undesirable enough that they didn't release their report to the public!

In addition, the Meat Inspection Act was passed partly because of public opinion. Ironically, Upton Sinclair himself opposed the act!

By Bhutan — On Oct 16, 2011

@SauteePan - One tip that I want to pass on that I read about in a magazine is if you cook your meat at above 160 degrees that should kill most bacteria. This is why whenever I go to a fast food restaurant and they serve me a lukewarm burger I always reject it for a fresh hot one.

I am a little paranoid about the temperature of my food especially when I am dealing with meat. Meat safety is something we should all think about and not take for granted.

By SauteePan — On Oct 15, 2011

@Cripety -I agree to a degree, but I also have to say that sometimes the meat comes already tainted from a meat packing plant and it is not uncovered until a link is made when the illness and deaths get reported.

We always hear stories of people getting sick from E coli or salmonella poisoning and some of these people even die as a result and then the supermarkets do a huge recall. So it is not always the restaurant’s fault. Sometimes the problem originated way before.

By Crispety — On Oct 14, 2011

I think that government regulation with respect to food safety is a must. We can’t expect companies to police themselves and we do need to have clear standards in place.

Cross contamination of meat with say poultry is also a problem that we see in some restaurants. I think that restaurant health inspections should be posted on the entrance to every restaurant so that customers could decide if they want to dine at a particular restaurant or not.

I know that I went to an upscale Cuban restaurant a few months ago, and I had the worst food poisoning of my life. So if this could happen in a fancy restaurant like this it could happen anywhere.

It is really important that this information regarding the restaurant inspection be made public, I am sure the restaurants would do their best to keep more sanitary conditions because they would not want to be embarrassed by a bad report. They would also lose a lot of business once the word gets out which would really motivate them to do their best.

By backdraft — On Oct 14, 2011

A lot of times we take for granted that our meat is safe. This is not a given or something that is easily achieved. The US has pretty rigorous food safety laws and dedicates a lot of time, money and manpower to protecting the food supply.

We are used to a certain level of safety and often eat and drink without much concern over sanitation. But that is not the way it is in all or even most of the world. Anyone who says that government regulation is always a bad thing needs to think about things like the meat inspection act.

By gravois — On Oct 13, 2011

Does anyone know if this act is in any way tied to Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle? That novel is mostly about meat packing and all the horrible and unsanitary things that happen in that industry. I know that the book was widely read and had a big effect on the way people though about the meat industry and food safety.

I don't know if it's influence spread all the way to congress though. Regardless, it's a great book and a real page turner. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.

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