Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing Bill Amending the Meat Inspection Act

December 15, 1967

Secretary Freeman, Miss Furness, Senator Holland, Senator Mondale, Senator Montoya, Chairman Poage, Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

In 1906, Upton Sinclair roused the conscience of the country with his book "The Jungle." It described conditions in our meatpacking plants. I thought it would be good this morning if I read you a line or two:

"There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor ... where the workers had tramped ... in the barrels (were) dirt and rust and old nails and stale water ... (all) taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public's breakfast."

Then listen to this:

"A man was wrapping pork shoulders. He dropped one in the sawdust, picked it up and wiped it off with a dirty, sour rag ... Beef was being broken on an open dock, by a dirt road, in 95-degree weather. There were flies in the meat. Drums of bones and meat scraps were covered with maggots."

What I just read to you was not from "The Jungle." It did not happen 60 years ago when Upton Sinclair was writing his book. It happened in July 1967. It was written by a United States Federal Government inspector after a visit to one of our great, modern packing plants.

We are here this morning to make sure that that plant will either clean up or close down.

We have waited a long time for this bill. Upton Sinclair's book spurred the public to fight for a clean meat bill. They got a clean meat bill--the Meat Inspection Act of 1907.

President Theodore Roosevelt said it would "insure wholesomeness from the hoof to the can."

But that bill did only a very small part of the job. It covered only meat that crossed State lines.

That left a gap. It did not protect our families against the 8 3/4 billion pounds of meat that received no Federal inspection.

That is enough meat to feed 50 million people.

That is 15 percent of all the fresh meat that is sold--and that is 25 percent of all the processed meat products sold--in this entire country.

This doesn't mean that all, or even half, of that meat in any way is tainted--or suspected. But:

--It does mean that somewhere there are some packers who have been peddling meat from "4-D" animals--dead, dying, disabled, and diseased.

--It does mean that these shady processors-whoever and wherever they may be--have been allowed to operate some filthy plants in this country, and one filthy plant is one too many.

--It does mean we are risking the health of our children and of our families.

This is an intolerable condition in the 20th century in a modern nation that prides itself on reputed leadership of the world. I have been urging and I have been asking for a strong meat inspection bill since 1964.

The Wholesome Meat Act of 1967--which has been brought to me by the good work of the Congress--will give something priceless, I think, to American housewives. It will give them assurance that the meat that they put on the dinner table for their husbands and their children is pure; that it has been packed and it has been processed in a sanitary plant.

Here is what this bill does:

--It gives the State 2 years to develop a meat inspection program that is equally as good as the Federal Government's. If the State does not do so, the Federal system will be applied.

--It offers the States Federal help to set up those inspection systems.

--It raises the quality standards for all imported meats.

--And, it gives the Secretary of Agriculture-for the first time--the power to inspect State plants. Now, if a State won't clean up a plant which endangers the public health of that State's citizens, then the Federal Government will clean it up and will take action, and has the authority to do so.

But even the best protection laws won't work unless they are effectively enforced. I have asked Secretary Freeman to go out in the countryside to get the inspectors he needs and to bring about the necessary enforcement.

And this is not going to break our budget. It will break somebody, if we don't do it.

This Wholesome Meat Act is a landmark, we think, in consumer protection. It helps every American--by assuring him that the meat his family consumes has been inspected with their health and their safety in mind.

Mr. Sinclair, I am told, is here today. If he is I would like for him to stand up, please.

Mr. Sinclair, we are so glad to have you here in the East Room with many of the distinguished Members of the Congress and people who are interested in this wholesome meat legislation.

This bill really crowns the crusade that you, yourself, began some 60 years ago.

We salute you, sir, and we thank you.

Now, if I may, I have a man-bites-dog story here. I know that is the rule the media operates on. I want to observe this morning that this bill is here because other writers have carried on a crusade, too.

Perceptive and responsible men have gone about arousing the conscience of America in our day--as Miss Furness is in hers. These people are the journalists who exposed the conditions that this bill is meant to remedy.

So I find more than great public good this morning in this ceremony. It is a personal pleasure to me to be on the side of the fourth estate--for at least once.

I only hope that its members will not be so startled by my tribute that they fail to report it properly for posterity.

For it should be written, on the evidence of this and on many other days of celebration, that the good people of America will always respond when they have the facts-and when they hear a responsible call to action.

At least, according to my slide rules, calculations, and judgments for 37 years--at least applied to myself--they have exercised good judgment.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:12 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Orville L. Freeman, Secretary of Agriculture, Betty Furness, Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs, Senator Spessard L. Holland of Florida, Senator Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota, Senator Joseph M. Montoya of New Mexico, and Representative W. R. Poage of Texas, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. As enacted, the bill (H.R. 12144) is Public Law 90--201 (81 Stat. 584).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing Bill Amending the Meat Inspection Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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