USDA proposes new regulations on processing line speeds

The USDA has released a proposed rule to lift the caps on line speeds in meat processing plants, allowing individual facilities the power to determine how quickly pork can be processed on site.
calendar icon 23 January 2018
clock icon 3 minute read

Under the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS), the new rules would allow hog slaughter plants to voluntarily join a new proposed inspection system that would put plant employees in charge of determining which animals are unfit for processing. Government inspectors who currently perform this function would be moved to other areas of the plant focused more on food safety.

The cap on processing line speeds would also be removed, with packers responsible for maintaining animal welfare and employee safety rules, the USDA said in an interview with Reuters.

Currently, pork plants process an average of between 950 and 1,000 hogs per hour; new line speeds could reach an estimated 1,295 hogs per hour, according to test processing facilities in operation since 1997.

Worker safety experts reacted to the proposed rule, noting that it would add to the already high risk of food contamination and worker injuries in meat processing plants. Meatpacking workers already experience a risk of injury seventeen times higher than that of other workers nationwide, with high instances of carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and amputations (Organic Authority).

Dr Dan Kovich, a veterinarian with the National Pork Producers Council, claimed that worries about increased chain speeds are unfounded in an interview with Reuters:

The plants don’t have free will to run as fast as they want. They have to make sure they can still meet the letter of the law when it comes to animal welfare, food safety and employee safety as they did before.

FSIS alleges that the new system will also result in a lower prevalence of salmonella, thus reducing foodborne illnesses linked with pork.

Those opposed to the proposition argue that the new rule puts disproportionate power in the hands of packers at the detriment of animals and employees. Centre for Food Safety Senior Policy Advisor, Jaydee Hanson, commented:

It’s moving in the wrong direction. A lot of the big companies want to get USDA inspectors off the line so that they can run it faster.

In a statement, Debbie Berkowitz, senior fellow for worker safety and health with the National Employment Law Project, said removing chain speed limits is “another example of the Trump administration rigging the rules against workers and being perfectly willing to sacrifice their health to benefit corporate interests".

The proposed rule will be subject to a 60-day comment period once it is published in the Federal Register.

Sources: Reuters; Organic Authority

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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