Prison pork prohibition pulled promptly

In a pig’s eye.

Last week we told you about the menu change at federal prisons where pork products disappeared from the table back on October 1st. What was up with that? At the time I wondered whether it had to do with pressure from religious groups who don’t eat pork or perhaps some sort of political shenanigans between the administration and the pork industry. We don’t have all of those answers yet, but the resulting uproar spurred somebody to action and the ban on pork in prison has apparently been ended… at least in part. (Washington Post)

After a week of controversy surrounding its abrupt removal of pork dishes from the national menu for federal inmates, the government did an about-face Thursday and put pork roast back on the prison bill of fare.

The Bureau of Prisons disclosed the decision to The Post hours after a Republican Senate leader expressed dismay at what he implied was a wasteful survey of inmates’ food preferences and a lack of transparency in the decision.

“The pork industry is responsible for 547,800 jobs, which creates $22.3 billion in personal incomes and contributes $39 billion to the gross domestic product,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote in a letter Thursday to Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr.

It’s probably not going to shock anyone to find out that the pork industry lobby (yes, there is such a thing) was fighting this very hard and that Chuck Grassley was involved in getting it changed. Iowa has a lot of pig farms and the many people involved in that industry vote. It’s equally unsurprising that the chicken and beef lobby representatives were in there swinging in support of the ban. Some days you really don’t want to pick up the newspaper.

But is the ban over entirely? As Fox News pointed out, all the reporting so far indicates that “pork roast” is back on the menu in prison. It doesn’t say anything about bacon, sausage, pork chops or all the rest of those delightful pig products. (Did I already say bacon? Well, it bears repeating.) Were they just using the phrase pork roast generically or is bacon still off the menu? From the phrasing of the responses at the prison bureau it’s only pork roast.

Clear answers don’t seem to be forthcoming yet and beyond that, officials aren’t even saying why they changed their mind.

Edmond Ross, a spokesman for the prison bureau, could not explain what prompted the government’s quick turnaround. “I’m not cleared to say anything and I don’t have answers for you,” he said late Thursday. An explanation from senior prison officials could come Friday, he said.

Ross had explained last week that based on annual surveys of inmates’ food preferences, pork lost its appeal in the prison system years ago. In the last two years, the menu had dropped from bacon, pork chops and sausages to just one dish: Pork roast, the entree now back on federal prison dining halls.

The explanation that pork was “just not popular” is one of the least believable things ever to come out of the mouths of politicians or lawyers (which is really saying something) so there must be some other answer hiding in the weeds. Now that we know that three different farm lobby groups were weighing in on the fight, things begin to make a bit more sense. The next question to answer is who was responsible for making the final decision and what their ties are to the various interest groups pumping cash into Washington.

Can I be the first one to coin the term PorkGate?