New inspection system to be rolled out in US pig slaughter plants

23 October 2018, at 12:00am

The announcement of the new voluntary inspection system for pork processing plants received both criticism and praise from the pig industry. Now the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will finalise the updated system in coming months

The proposal, first put forward in February 2018, was to enforce new rules in processing facilities that would allow hog slaughter plants to voluntarily join an inspection system which 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.

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.

This proposed change has been rejected by processors, animal welfare bodies and some food safety groups: the risks associated with increasing line speeds will quite possibly outweigh the benefits. In July (2018), a report was published by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) indicating that even at current line speeds, the dangers of working in a slaughter plant are high. On average, two amputations a week are recorded across US processing plants.

In an interview with TBIJ, Amanda Hitt, from the Food Integrity Campaign, said: “Increased line speeds pose a real threat to workers. In addition to heinous injuries resulting from speed such as amputations and physical injury, workers are also at risk from injuries resulting from repeated motions. A pork plant worker may make… hard-cutting knife motions while working on a line. This repetition puts the worker at risk [of] debilitating musculoskeletal problems.”

FSIS confirmed that they received over 83,500 comments on the February proposal, many of which were requests to withdraw the line speed update. FSIS has said it will analyse and address the comments before finalising the legislation.

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