Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) and Congressman Mark Pocan (D., WIS.) in a letter with 61 other colleagues urge USDA Secretary Sonny Perdure to withdraw the Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection proposed rule.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service proposed in January to amend the federal meat inspection regulations to establish a new voluntary inspection system for market hog slaughter establishments called the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS), while also requiring additional pathogen sampling for all swine slaughter establishments.The proposed rule also allows innovation and flexibility to establishments that are slaughtering market hogs. Market hogs are uniform, healthy, young animals that can be slaughtered and processed in this modernized system more efficiently and effectively with enhanced process control.
For market hog establishments that opt into NSIS, the proposed rule would increase the number of offline USDA inspection tasks, while continuing 100% FSIS carcass-by-carcass inspection. These offline inspection tasks place inspectors in areas of the production process where they can perform critical tasks that have a direct impact on food safety.
DeLauro and Pocan led a letter with their colleagues stressing a concern over increase swine slaughter line speeds.
The rule would allow an unlimited increase in swine slaughter line speeds, endangering workers’ safety, public health, and animal welfare.
“The Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection proposed rule removes all limitations on line speeds in hog slaughter plants, which will endanger the health and safety of tens of thousands of workers in the hog slaughter industry,” wrote the Members. “Even at current line speeds, pork slaughter and processing workers face many job risks that can lead to severe injury, illness and death. Meatpacking workers in hog slaughter plants work in cold, wet, noisy, and slippery conditions making tens of thousands of forceful repetitive motions on each shift. Meatpacking workers are injured at 2.4 times the rate of other industries and they face illness rates at 17 times the rate of other industries.”
“An increase in line speeds will result in an already dangerous industry becoming more dangerous,” continued the Members. “There is no evidence that the increased line speeds can be done in a manner that ensures safe food and safe workers. We strongly oppose swine slaughter line speed increases, the new proposed inspection system, and urge you to withdraw the rule.”
Currently, five U.S. pork packing plants are participating in an NSIS pilot project. The plants have made significant investments in training and have used their own staff to perform food-safety monitoring functions under continuous verification from FSIS inspection staff. According to the National Pork Producers Council, NSIS creates an environment where new food-safety technologies can be rapidly incorporated into a facility’s HACCP plan and implemented under federal inspection; there is no rational basis for claims that wider adoption of NSIS will create new animal handling issues or jeopardize the safety of workers The pork industry is supportive of the proposed rule.
In the letter, the legislators suggest if USDA does not withdraw the rule, it should extend the comment period on the proposed rule until 60 days after the final peer-reviewed risk assessment is published and available for public comment.
A copy of the full letter can be found here.