Pork plants in a USDA test program had higher contamination rates than traditional plants


By Kimberly Kindy, The Washington Post

Feb. 18, 2021


Hogs slaughtered at pork plants where a USDA food safety inspection program was tested had contamination rates nearly twice that of hogs processed in traditional plants over a recent four-year period, information that was not disclosed during the Trump administration’s push to expand the system to plants around the nation, newly released records show.


The new system, which was adopted last year, shifts many food safety tasks from federal inspectors to pork industry employees and reduces the number of Agriculture Department inspectors on slaughter lines in some plants by 40 percent, records show. Pork plant owners are also allowed to accelerate slaughter-line speeds faster than in conventional plants, which critics say lessens the opportunity to find contamination.


The data shows that the five plants used in the test program were cited by USDA inspectors nearly twice as often for having fecal and digestive matter on the hog carcasses when they reached the end of the slaughter line. The USDA has a zero-tolerance policy for this type of contamination, which contains high levels of deadly human pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.


The records, obtained by the nonprofit consumer group Food and Water Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request, compared the test plants with 21 traditional plants of comparable size from 2014 to 2017, the years immediately preceding the push to expand the program...


... The North American Meat Institute, a trade group for the industry, said in a statement that the higher citation rates in the test plants does not necessarily mean more pork is being contaminated...






As U.S. pork plant speeds up slaughtering, workers report more injuries


By Tom Polansek and P.J. Huffstutter, Reuters

via WKZO | Everything Kalamazoo | 590 AM · 106.9 FM (MI) | Feb 19, 2021


Kalamazoo, MI, USA / CHICAGO (Reuters) - One of America's leading pig slaughterhouses is running faster than ever as meatpackers hustle to keep pork in grocery stores during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plant worker Hector Ixquier says it's time to slow down.


Ixquier said he sought medical treatment in January for tendons he strained in his right arm while draining blood from pigs in a Seaboard Foods pork plant in Guymon, Oklahoma.


The 30-year-old immigrant from Guatemala said he requested a transfer to the position piercing jugular veins about five months ago, after an increase in slaughtering speeds made it too tiring to do his previous job: wrestling chains around pigs' hind legs before they are killed.


His new job is also physically taxing, and a doctor recommended rest and avoiding certain tasks at work, Ixquier said in an interview. "I'm thankful for the opportunity,” he said of the new gig, “but it's still too fast."


Seaboard, the second-biggest U.S. pig producer after Smithfield Foods, sped up its Guymon operations last year after the U.S. government removed limits on pork plant line speeds in late 2019. It was the first plant to operate under the new rule, which was intended to allow processors to produce meat more quickly.


But some workers, like Ixquier, say they have suffered physically as a result. Seaboard now requires employees to slaughter between about 1,230 and 1,300 hogs per hour, two plant workers who are also union stewards told Reuters. That compares to under 1,100 an hour in 2019, said one of the workers, Jose Quinonez.


Workers and their advocates say the rule change is part of a series of measures finalized by former President Donald Trump’s administration that jeopardize employee safety, including exempting dozens of poultry plants from slower line speeds and re-opening plants battling COVID-19. The changes, and prevalence of COVID-19 at slaughterhouses, have made it harder to keep workers in their jobs at a time when U.S. companies are trying to build up meat supplies.


Seaboard, which didn’t respond to questions about Ixquier, said employee health is a top priority...