The federal government put pork roast back on the menu at federal prisons without explanation after a Republican lawmaker questioned claims that pig products were removed because of lack of interest and high costs.
According to the Washington Post, the move came after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) penned a letter to Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr, inquiring about the government’s decision to ban bacon, pork chops, ham, and all other pork products from the menus at its 122 federal prisons.
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The Bureau of Prisons announced the decision earlier this month when the ban went into effect at the start of fiscal year 2016. According to the bureau, the increasing price of pork products and an alleged survey demonstrating that inmates don’t like the taste of pork justified the removal.
Grassley demanded evidence backing up the decision.
"To corroborate the validity of the claim that prisoners indicated a lack of interest in pork products, I am requesting copies of the prisoner surveys and responses that were used to support the determination to no longer serve pork in federal prisons," the GOP senator, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees federal prisons, wrote.
"Please provide any economic evaluations the Bureau of Prisons has relied on that detail the cost of pork as compared to beef, chicken, and non-meat products such as tofu and soy products."
Grassley voiced concern that the decision would negatively impact Americans who work in the pork industry.
"This unprecedented decision to remove pork from all federal prisons will have consequences on the livelihoods of American citizens who work in the pork industry," Grassley wrote in the letter, noting that the pork industry is responsible for 547,800 jobs and creates $22.3 billion in personal incomes.
Edmond Ross, spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, said last week that pork had been "the lowest-rated food by inmates for several years." Indeed, federal prison menus shed all pork products save pork roast over the past two years.
Ross also said that federal prison menus have added "economically viable" turkey bacon substitute in fiscal year 2016, a decision that resulted from prisoners becoming "more health conscious."
The policy was immediately slammed by the pork industry and celebrated by its chicken and beef competitors.
Ross refused to explain the quick change to the policy that put pork roast back on the menu Thursday.
"I’m not cleared to say anything and I don’t have answers for you," the bureau spokesman said.
The National Pork Producers Council, the trade association representing U.S. hog farmers, questioned the alleged survey last week and threatened not to "rule out any options to resolve this."
"I find it hard to believe that a survey would have found a majority of any population saying, ‘No thanks, I don’t want any bacon,’" Dave Warner, spokesman for the trade association, said. "We’re going to find out how this came about and go from there."