In this file:


·         USDA: Why we are modernizing swine slaughter inspection

·         The USDA Changed Pork Inspection Rules—Why Consumer Groups Are Concerned



Why we are modernizing swine slaughter inspection


Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Opinion

via Food Safety News by Marler Clark - September 19, 2019


USDA’s Mindy Brashears submitted this column to Food Safety News this week.


In the world of food safety, 1993 was a watershed moment. Early that year, hundreds of people became ill and four children died from an E. coli outbreak linked to fast food burgers. At the time, I was studying food safety at Oklahoma State University. Their deaths shocked me in a transformative way. I was pregnant with my first child and the outbreak ingrained in me a passion for ensuring the safety of our children’s food. And it made me realize that government and industry need to take a scientific approach in protecting the food supply.


In my role at USDA, I oversee the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and its team of scientists, veterinarians, inspection personnel, and policy experts. These dedicated career civil servants have been working to modernize meat and poultry slaughter inspection and bring it into the 21st century. In fact, FSIS just announced its final rule called the Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection. This rule has been in the works for four presidential administrations. It has key provisions based on science to improve food safety that are getting overlooked by those that oppose modernization efforts.


The final rule has new requirements that all swine slaughter establishments must conduct additional microbial testing to ensure that they are controlling for pathogens throughout the slaughter system. Who can argue with that? Who doesn’t want slaughterhouses to conduct more testing with the resulting data helping to drive food safety?


Additionally, there is another part to the final rule that establishments can decide whether they wish to participate in – a new slaughter inspection process for market hogs. If establishments do not wish to participate in the new process, they will continue to operate under the traditional slaughter inspection system. This new system is based on a pilot program that FSIS initiated in 1997 in market hog slaughter establishments to determine whether new slaughter inspection procedures, along with new plant responsibilities, could improve food safety. After 20 years, FSIS determined, based on scientific data, that the five swine slaughter establishments that participated in the pilot performed as well as those under traditional slaughter inspection. This wasn’t a surprise because FSIS successfully modernized the poultry inspection system in 2014 during the Obama administration.


The modernization of swine slaughter inspection ensures a safe product on your dinner table because every hog and carcass are inspected by USDA inspection personnel, as mandated by Congress. The valued USDA mark of inspection is applied by federal inspectors only on meat that is safe to eat.


FSIS’ mission is to ensure that meat, poultry and egg product are safe. I take that mission seriously and modernizing outdated regulations is a critical step to protecting the food supply as science and technology continue to advance. This rule is a science and data-based approach to modernization that will improve our food safety mission. I’ve spent my career bringing evidence-based methods to food production and I will continue to do so to keep my family and yours safe from foodborne illness.


About the author: Mindy M. Brashears is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s deputy under secretary for food safety. She previously was a professor of food safety and public health and the director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech. She earned her doctorate in food science from Oklahoma State University.


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The USDA Changed Pork Inspection Rules—Why Consumer Groups Are Concerned


Jelisa Castrodale, Food & Wine

via Yahoo Lifestyle - September 19, 2019


Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized a rule that makes a significant number of regulatory changes at pork slaughterhouses. The agency says that the changes are long overdue, and will modernize an inspection system that hasn't been updated in more than five decades. But both consumer advocacy organizations and those who advocate for worker safety have expressed concern that the new system could lead to an increase in food contamination and make conditions more dangerous for slaughterhouse employees.


As reported by Reuters, the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) will allow companies like Tyson Foods and WH Group's Smithfield Foods to increase the number of pigs that they slaughter every hour.


Those changes will also allow those facilities to train their own employees to sort and remove pigs that have defects—including fecal matter, illnesses, and injuries—before being processed, a task that has previously been done by a federal inspector. The USDA will still inspect each animal both before and after slaughter.


"[The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service] will make inspection staff determinations on a case-by-case basis to ensure that 100 percent inspection and other critical public health activities are carried out," the USDA has previously stated. "Should the proposed rule become final, federal inspectors won't be performing quality assurance tasks. Instead, they would be able to focus on critically important activities." The agency has also said that the processing plants will be cited if the animals haven't been properly sorted before its own inspectors step in.


"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 in a statement.


The NSIS also removes the limit on line speed, the number of pigs that can be slaughtered each hour. Processing plants have previously been limited to 1,106 pigs per hour, although the USDA says the average is actually closer to 977 per hour. Regardless, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) says that forcing slaughterhouse workers to process more pigs even faster could cause an increase to an already overwhelming number of workplace injuries; the organization says that meatpacking workers are fifteen times more likely to suffer "occupational illness" than workers in other industries.


"Working in a slaughterhouse is a difficult, dangerous job,” Jessica Martinez, the co-executive director of the National COSH said. “Speeding up production lines will make these jobs even more difficult and more dangerous. Workers will be at a greater risk of getting sick, injured—or killed.”


Consumer advocacy organizations have expressed their own concerns about NSIS, and what effect it could have on food safety. In 1998, five pork processing plants participated in a 15-year long pilot program called the HACCP-based Inspection Model Project (HIMP), and those plants were allowed to use their own employees to perform the sorting and pre-inspection tasks that would be permissible under the NSIS. Food & Water Watch previously reviewed the food safety performance data from the five HIMP plants, and compared it to data from five "comparably sized" plants that still followed the traditional USDA inspection procedures. Of the regulatory violations that were filed during that time period, 73 percent of the carcass contamination violations and 61 percent of the equipment sanitation violations were found in the plants participating in HIMP.


"The implementation of the rule will result in the fox guarding the henhouse. With less government oversight over hog slaughter inspection, big meat companies will have the freedom to inspect themselves and push towards their goal of increasing line speeds," Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter wrote earlier this week. "There's no doubt about it: faster line speeds + less inspection = more food contamination."


The nonprofit Consumer Federation of America is equally troubled by the new rule...


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