In this file:


·         U.S. Speeds Pig Slaughter Ahead of Looming China Supply Gap

·         FSIS says critics wrong about new pork slaughter rule

·         USDA eliminates line speed limits at pork processing plants

·         USDA Offers Pork Companies A New Inspection Plan, Despite Opposition

·         Final hog rule sent off to the Federal Register, ending the HIMP pilot era after 22 years




U.S. Speeds Pig Slaughter Ahead of Looming China Supply Gap


o   Rules released Tuesday also include new inspection system

o   Annual savings for large pork packers could be $3.78 million


By Lydia Mulvany and Mike Dorning, Bloomberg

September 17, 2019


New Department of Agriculture regulations are set to bring U.S. pork processors a windfall.


Under rule changes announced Tuesday, which include a “modernized” inspection system, hog slaughter can be faster and maximum speeds have been removed. As a result, the USDA estimates average annual savings for large pork processing plants at $3.78 million as they increase production by 12.5%. However, opponents are worried it will affect food safety.


The changes come just as the world of pork is about to be turned on its head, with a deadly virus ravaging herds in China, the biggest producer and consumer. An unprecedented supply gap is expected to emerge as early as next year, and American hog producers are keen to fill the demand. There are already signs of pork shortages in China, with protein prices there hitting records.


Pork packers in the U.S. are already doing well as ample supplies keep down cash market prices for animals. According to HedgersEdge data, packers are making $40.30 a head, the highest this year.


The National Pork Producers Council and the North American Meat Institute praised the rule changes. Under the new inspection system, which is voluntary, government meat inspectors will have “more time to focus attention on verifying food safety and animal welfare requirements, and will stimulate food safety innovation,” the Meat Institute said in a statement.


But others raised concerns. More inspections will be done by the private companies themselves, rather than by government inspectors, said Patty Lovera, a program director for Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group in Washington D.C. That’s a flawed idea that could affect food safety, she said.


The United Food and Commercials Workers International Union has called increasing line speeds dangerous to workers in pork plants. Amanda Hitt, director of food integrity at the Government Accountability Project, said the new rules risk more repetitive motion injuries to line workers and rely too much on private employees who don’t have whistleblower protection to raise food safety issues...





FSIS says critics wrong about new pork slaughter rule


By Julie Harker, Brownfield

September 17, 2019


The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service has finalized its rule on swine slaughter inspection and says it will modernize the industry and improve food safety.


Deputy Undersecretary Mindy Brashears tells Brownfield Ag News that contrary to critics of the rule – there will be NO reduction in USDA inspectors on the lines, “We are not allowing plant employees to do any inspections. WE are doing all the inspection,” adding, “We will no longer have food inspectors on the line – we will have Consumer Safety Inspectors. These inspectors have more experience, more training, more education, and basically, more food safety education.”


Patty Lovera with Food and Water Watch insists that there will be fewer USDA inspectors in pork plants under the rule and employees will be given those duties, “That’s a loss for consumer protection and you know, we think that the law says that the USDA should be doing this inspection. Not letting company employees inspect themselves.”


Lovera also tells Brownfield they’ve been in poultry and pork plants in those USDA pilot programs and contamination was worse than in traditional plants and have published their findings on their website.


Brashears questions that assessment, telling Brownfield, “I’m not aware of any research study that’s been conducted in poultry plants or pork plants by Food & Water Watch and if they have done that they  have not presented any data to US,” adding...


more, including audio clips [10:37 & 6:04 min.]



USDA eliminates line speed limits at pork processing plants


Don Walton, Lincoln Journal Star (NE)

Sep 17, 2019


The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday finalized a new rule reducing the number of food safety inspectors in pork slaughter plants and eliminating limits on line speeds, sparking warnings that the deregulation puts both workers and consumers at risk.


"This regulatory change allows us to ensure food safety while eliminating outdated rules and allowing for companies to innovate," Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said.


On the contrary, Nebraska Appleseed argued the change is "a step backward toward the days of Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle'" and will jeopardize food safety while increasing the likelihood of more permanent and often crippling injuries for workers.


Pork processing plants are scattered across Nebraska and employ a largely immigrant work force.


USDA said its new rules would shift more of the food safety responsibilities to workers and the industry argued that it could implement more advanced food safety requirements.


In response, Appleseed said the rule would allow companies to inspect their own product "without any requirements for employee training in fecal contamination, bacteria and disease."


Workers who are laboring on rapidly moving production lines already "suffer permanent, crippling injuries at alarming rates," Appleseed stated.


Food safety concerns include "a higher risk for major outbreaks of salmonella, listeria, E. coli and other food-borne bacteria," the advocacy organization said.


The deregulation "threatens to put workers in grave danger of serious injuries," Human Rights Watch stated...





USDA Offers Pork Companies A New Inspection Plan, Despite Opposition


Dan Charles, Heard on All Things Considered, NPR

September 17, 2019


For the first time in half a century, the U.S. government just revised the way that it inspects pork slaughterhouses. The change has been long in coming. It's been debated, and even tried out at pilot plants, for the past 20 years. It gives pork companies themselves a bigger role in the inspection process. Critics call it privatization.


To understand the change, it's helpful to visualize a pork processing plant. It works like an assembly line in reverse. A whole pig gets cut up into parts.


At various points along that disassembly line, inspectors from the federal government are required by law to be present at all times. They reject live animals that seem sick or sections of a carcass that don't look right.


Casey Gallimore, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the North American Meat Institute, which represents meat companies, says that a really big plant has seven inspectors on the processing line. "You're going to have three inspectors that are looking at the heads, three inspectors that are looking at the viscera, which is what we call the internal organs, and one inspector that is looking at the carcass itself," she says.


Under the new rule, just announced, pork companies have a new option. They can hire their own people to help out. These company employees would be at each inspection station, weeding out any problematic pig parts before the USDA inspector gives the meat a green light. There will be fewer USDA inspectors in the plant because they won't have as much to do.


Because of the extra personnel assigned to inspections, pork companies will be allowed to run their processing plants faster.


The pork industry likes the change. "It's always great to have options!" says Gallimore.


She says that the new rules will allow plants to try out new ways of operating that could be more efficient. She says it won't affect food safety. The additional company employees will be highly trained, and USDA inspectors still will look at every piece of pork that goes into the food supply. "There's still going to be three on-line inspectors there all of the time, and there will be two 0ff-line inspectors walking around all of the time," she says.


Five big pork plants have been experimenting with this system for 20 years. But there's been strong opposition to the change from some USDA food safety inspectors and from food safety activists.


"We call it privatizing inspections," says Patty Lovera, a food industry critic with the nonprofit group Food and Water Watch.


Lovera says that company employees aren't likely to be as aggressive, when it comes to spotting problems, as independent government inspectors. Problems cost money, "and to ask company employees to be under that pressure, of pulling product out and costing their employer money, is a lot to ask," she says. "We think consumers are better served when we have an independent government employee making that call."


Even though there still will be USDA inspectors in every plant, there will be fewer of them. The USDA has estimated that in some plants, there may be 40 percent fewer. And Lovera says they'll be trying to monitor carcasses that will be moving faster. "That just ups the pressure on that last USDA inspector to be the last line of defense," she says.


Lovera also says that increasing the line speed also could make it more dangerous for workers in these plants.


Gallimore, from the North American Meat Institute, says...


more, including audio [3:25 min.]



Final hog rule sent off to the Federal Register, ending the HIMP pilot era after 22 years


By Dan Flynn, Food Safety News by Marler Clark

September 18, 2019


The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s new regulatory system for market hogs is a direct descendant of the food safety reforms first put in place after the Jack-in-the-Box tragedy 25 years ago.


FSIS made it official Tuesday by sending the “final rule” to the publisher of the Federal Register. It was approved Friday by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).


Mindy Brashears, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, believes the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS)  is another food safety improvement with a long ancestry.


“This is the next phase of our HACCP implementation,” says the former Texas Tech University food safety professor.


Brashears predicts 30-to-35  swine slaughter plants will fairly quickly opt-in to the NSIS. Most will be larger establishments. The change frees up FSIS personnel from sorting duties, giving them more time for “offline” inspections for enforcement of hazard and sanitation plans.


Brashears also thinks the change up testing requirements also only makes sense. With the NSIS, generic E.coli testing ends, but sampling for microbial organisms is required. And, FSIS will decide where sampling occurs.


Like the pre-2011 caucus testing for Salmonella, the generic E. coli testing produces uniformly low results. Brashears says such flatline data is not helpful. She says changing up testing makes the most sense.


The new rule anticipates healthier animals and carcasses with fewer defects reaching the Agency’s inspectors. That’s because the rule makes it clear than only establishment personnel is responsible for sorting that occurs before FSIS does the antemortem inspection.


Key elements of the NSIS, according to the Final Rule include: