Service of Cutting Corners for Efficiency and to Slash Costs

February 26th, 2018

Categories: Cutbacks, Cutting Corners, Food Safety, Quality Control, TV


In a recent episode of “Call the Midwife” on PBS, Sister Ursula, new to running things at Nonnatus House, insisted that the home visits to newborns and patients who had recently given birth could be no longer than 10 minutes in the interest of efficiency. Each midwife should be able to add to her daily load as a result.

Sister Ursula, right. Photo:

The staff tried to tell her that their work [in the east end of London in the 1950s], bore no relationship to postnatal care in a hospital setting but she was adamant.  As a result, one of the midwives, who had been reprimanded severely for staying longer with a patient than ordered a day before, left a mother and newborn promptly, not realizing that they were exposed to carbon monoxide in their overheated bedroom and the infant almost died. At the end the baby lived and Sister Ursula, recognizing that super-efficiency wasn’t always the answer, quit her job.

I thought of this fictitious episode when I read Benjamin Parkin and Patrick McGroarty’s Wall Street Journal article, “A Rush to Slaughter Provokes Opposition.” It’s another example of removing government oversight on a source of food, letting an industry oversee itself. “Proposed rules allowing meatpackers to slaughter hogs faster and play a bigger role in policing food safety are intended to free up government inspectors while making plants more efficient. But the rules, which could take effect this year, have drawn criticism.

“Consumer advocates question whether companies can guarantee the cleanliness of their pork while workers take on some tasks previously reserved for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors. Meanwhile, worker-rights groups say speeding up slaughter lines would strain workers whose jobs are already difficult and dangerous.”

“Paul Kiecker, acting administrator of the USDA’s food-safety branch [said the] moves would let inspectors perform other duties such as checking on plant sanitation, which the agency deems a better way to promote food safety than having an inspector posted only to monitor specific points in the slaughtering process.”

According to the USDA “Diseases such as tuberculosis that an inspector can identify by sight are less common in livestock today, they say, while more pressing threats such as bacterial contamination are detected through laboratory tests. They say plant workers can be trained to perform tasks, such as preliminary health checks on glands and organs in slaughtered animals, that were previously performed by inspectors.”

Sure, the workers can be trained, but will they be? Doesn’t that cost money which clearly is not the objective. I am suspicious of the negative impact on citizens of cutbacks in government oversight on food production [beef is next] so I don’t know whom to believe. I fear the excessive profit motive pervasive today may affect us all adversely. Do you?


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4 Responses to “Service of Cutting Corners for Efficiency and to Slash Costs”

  1. Lucan Said:

    Yes. I agree. Money is at the heart of this massive issue. It probably always has been. When you went to the hospital a hundred years ago and paid more you could have a private room and a private nurse. The same is true today. The rub is the Hippocratic Oath and democratic egalitarian principals. Obviously, the patient with the private room and increased care stands to have a better chance to get well than the other fellow, who has now not received “the best possible care.”

    As a practical matter, I don’t think there is a solution to this basic issue, therefore, my inclination would be for the government to focus on public health control and research issues and build a strong, rigorously honest USDA such as you discuss, rather than on medical service delivery issues such as insurance and the like. Those could be handled at the State level in accordance with the needs, pockets and desires of each given state and its inhabitants.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    In the 50s and early 60s when Call the Midwife took place the staff turned itself inside out to provide the best of care to the poorest people. I think that the effort was subsidized by the Episcopalian church. It’s amazing what people can do when they care about their patients. Naturally, if you need medicine and can’t afford it what good is the discovery and the fact that it exists?

    I was most taken by the fact that the USDA staff can identify TB just by looking. For a meatpacker who no doubt is under the gun to cut or package X numbers of chops or ribs an hour to also have to look for something he/she needs first to learn is unreasonable. I’d like to know if there’s a study of meatpackers of any variety that determines how many eat the products they attend to.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucrezia wrote on Facebook: It probably will, but there’s little to nothing we can do about it unless a national protest materializes. It won’t, since everyone’s too busy beating up on and/or defending the NRA! So now it’s death by poison or by bullet. How pleasant!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a friend said to me about sensible gun regulations, and I will add about the safety of our food supply, the subject of the post, is that should a powerful senator, governor, congressperson–or any of their family members–be killed by a bullet or tainted food only then might something be done in either case. Sadly, it wasn’t enough for U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords to be severely injured. I don’t wish death, injury or illness on a single soul for any reason. It’s sad if it must come to this for greed to be tamed.

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