Would you eat this chicken?

October 19, 2009 9:54:23 PM PDT
It's an Eyewitness News Investigation into poultry that may end up in a grocery store near you. We've uncovered serious questions about the inspection process at a busy wholesale poultry market that sells hundreds of birds a day.

For obvious reasons, there are strict standards for federal inspection of poultry that ends up in food stores. We received a tip that birds being sold out of a busy poultry plant in Corona, Queens may be a food disaster waiting in the wings. So we went undercover.

What we found at local neighborhood grocery stores is enough to make you sick.

Acting on a tip about questionable inspection practices at the Aniqa Live Poultry Plant in Corona, Queens, we visited several stores in recent weeks, shopping undercover for whole chickens and ducks sold wholesale by Aniqa.

Each bird had a red identifying tag from the Aniqa plant

A metallic tag means the bird has been checked and approved by a federal USDA inspector - your guarantee the bird you're buying is safe to eat. We specifically focused on ducks because we'd been told none had been inspected at Aniqa for months.

Our undercover producer wanted reassurance from the USDA inspector on site at Aniqa.

PRODUCER: "You inspect ducks, right?"
INSPECTOR: "Oh, absolutely, yeah. Ducks and chicken, mostly."

But at the time he said that, at the time we shopped, internal USDA documents we obtained show no ducks inspected at Aniqa, only chickens. Speaking of chickens, the ones that we bought were bruised and discolored, and much worse.

"You can see the eggs," a poultry expert said.

We took along an insider in the poultry business.

"That's feces in the chicken," he said about one.

He raised plenty of red flags about those red tags.

"Those are lungs. They're not supposed to be there, either," he said.

When we asked if he would ever sell a chicken like this:

"No, and I wouldn't eat one, either."

We showed our undercover video to a USDA inspector, who was the inspector at the Aniqa plant for seven months. He left in July.

Vincent Calabro can't talk on behalf of the USDA, but his personal reaction speaks volumes.

"More eggs. That's terrible," he said looking at the chickens. "Those are all birds that wouldn't have passed my inspection.... It's definitely hazardous. This shouldn't exist.... It could cause further contamination."

Calabro's attorney, Ken Mollins, is now suing Aniqa, claiming it used the inspector's name and picture in a newspaper ad, implying his endorsement.

"It's factually inaccurate. It's lies. It's deception," Mollins said.

"I have records that show there is no record of any ducks being inspected or killed here in August or September; can you explain the discrepancy for me? We bought ducks in stores, can you explain that?" we asked the inspector at the plant, but he had no response. So, we tried the owner.

When we asked, why is there no record? "I'm not sure... We're checking into it... Everything here is inspected," the owner said.

The owner claimed there's a problem with their tags being counterfeited by disreputable people.

Owner: "What I'm saying is that's not ours. They want to take our product out of the bag, and take our wing tag and put it on their product."
Sarah: "So, you're saying someone has taken your wingtag and put them on improper birds?"
Owner: "Exactly."
Sarah: "So those chickens we saw with the eggs and lungs inside and the feces?"
Owner: "Not ours."

The owner showed us around what appeared to be a very clean plant. He doesn't remember being cited and interviewed last January by the USDA for selling uninspected birds. We showed him this government document we obtained.

Sarah: "It mentions your name right here."
Owner: "Not me. We never violate anything."
Sarah: "You never violate anything."
Owner: "No. Not at all."

A spokesman for the USDA's food and inspection service told us they can't discuss ongoing investigations, but he did say they've received no formal complaints from Aniqa alleging an issue with counterfeit tags.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com.

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