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The head tables where workers use compressed air to turn brain mass into a slurry are gone at Quality Pork Producers (QPP) in Austin, MN, Indiana Packers Corp. in Delphi, IN and Hormel Foods Corp. in Fremont, NE.
But the neurological disease which the tables are blamed for causing in at least 24 workers in 2007 and 2008–Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy (PIN)–is not.
In late November more than 20 people demonstrated at the Quality Pork Producers plant in Austin against the treatment workers who developed the non-refractory PIN have received from the pork processor.
They carried signs saying, The Hospitals Prescribed Us Steroids, Science Doesn’t Have Cure For Our Disease and Hormel and QPP Guilty For Our Disease.
Eighteen workers at QPP, five at Indiana Packers Corp. and at least one at the Hormel Foods Corp. in Fremont, NE have developed the mysterious autoimmune disease characterized by tingling and numbness of the limbs and progressive weakness and debility leading to wheelchairs, paralysis and hospitalization in some cases.
Nor have any of the patients Dr. Daniel Lachance, a Mayo Clinic neurologist leading PIN treatment, has seen completely recovered, he told the Associated Press.
While some PIN patients have stabilized or improved and require only pain medication others have had to undergo treatment with intravenous immunoglobulins for their embattled immune systems say published reports.
One worker improved after “a period of rehabilitation,” says Neurology Today but “a few months after returning to work developed the polyradicular pattern experienced by other workers,” and relapsed.
Susan Kruse, a 16 year QPP worker, was reduced to a walker in early 2008 and unable to stand on her feet long enough to work four months later despite intravenous drug treatments every other week according to the Associated Press.
Of course press coverage of PIN has caused a transparency Big Pork does not appreciate.
Not only does seeing what happens at the head tables–and in the slaughterhouse in general–ruin appetites, potential food scares are the very reason behind Big Food’s anti-First Amendment “food disparagement laws” passed in 13 states in the 1990s.
But how could the press omit mention of the “aerosolized blood and organ particulate matter” a.k.a. brain mist when it is thought to cause PIN? And it’s a recognized risk in the Occupational Health Act?
It turns out that pork workers who developed PIN were in charge of turbo-charging a hog’s brains out its snout with a high pressure hose and “pouring” the brain soup into containers for shipment overseas and to parts of the US where it is eaten as a human food delicacy.
While a Plexiglas shield protected the hose operator from–is there a euphemism?–blowback, other head table workers had exposed arms and no face shields to prevent breathing or swallowing the pulverized brain material, say investigators.
“The heads come down to rendering with a lot of energy, causing splattering of some brain matter,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minneapolis confirms to Food Engineering magazine.
Scientists theorize PIN is caused when brain mist provokes an autoimmune, inflammatory response in the peripheral nervous systems of exposed workers, but can’t explain why it would happen now since head tables aren’t new.
Some theorize it has a long incubation period; others that the ever increasing speeds on slaughterhouse lines make for a greater splat factor.
The important thing say state health and ag officials is the disease which left workers unable to walk a year after they contracted it is not contagious and the meat is safe to eat!
So safe, meat executives initially sought “chemical toxins at the plant” for the cause of PIN (see: gas leaks at the World Trade Center collapse.)
So safe the Minnesota Health Department tucks a photo of a can of Rose Pork Brains with Milk Gravy in between photos of the head table in its final 53-page PIN investigation report–and a recipe for Scrambled Brains which serves four.
MARTHA ROSENBERG is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org