November 21, 2023
Earlier this year, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service announced it was extending its time-limited trials at six New Swine Slaughter Inspection System plants. At the time, FSIS said the extension would allow the contractors to finalize their report on the swine data, enable the agency to assess the report’s findings and conclusions and to determine future actions. Now that Nov. 30 deadline is quickly approaching and the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry says the department has yet to establish a permanent solution or issue an extension of the trials.
In a blog issued last week by the minority, the committee pointed out that nearly 40% of the U.S. supply of hogs is within 100 miles of the six processing plants.
"Absent a permanent solution or an extension of the current Time-Limited Trial, these processors will have to reduce their operational capacity, which reduces demand for hogs, disrupts the supply chain for U.S. hog farmers and processors, and exacerbates already historically high inflation in the U.S. food supply," the committee wrote.
In March 2021, a court order issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota vacated the part of the USDA final rule eliminating line speed limits for NSIS establishments. As a result, all NSIS establishments were required to operate at line speeds not exceeding 1,106 head per hour.
FSIS, in consultation with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration then developed a time-limited trial that enabled NSIS establishments to experiment with ergonomics, automation and crewing to create custom work environments that will protect food and worker safety while maintaining productivity.
In November 2021, NSIS establishments were invited to apply to participate in a trial, and six establishments were approved to run time-limited trials:
Clemens Food Group, LLC, Hatfield, Pennsylvania
Quality Pork Processors, Austin, Minnesota
Wholestone Farms Cooperative, Inc., Fremont, Nebraska
Clemens Food Group, LLC, Coldwater, Michigan
Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., Madison, Nebraska
Swift Pork Company, Beardstown, Illinois
The committee notes without a permanent solution or an extension of the trials, "affected pork processors will have to reduce their operational capacity, which reduces demand for hogs, delivering an economic blow to farmers who are raising hogs during the worst economic environment in more than 20 years."
For consumers, those limited supplies will put "upward pressure on food prices at a time when food price inflation is stubbornly and historically high," the committee wrote.
The United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry says FSIS needs to provide guidance and certainty to an industry already facing economic uncertainty and the worst profitability for farrow-to-finish hog operations in more than two decades.
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