Wednesday, April 10, 2019

USDA to shift more inspection responsibility to pork industry

"The Trump administration plans to shift much of the power and responsibility for food safety inspections in hog plants to the pork industry as early as May, cutting the number of federal inspectors by about 40 percent and replacing them with plant employees," Kimberly Kindy reports for The Washington Post. The Department of Agriculture is working on similar measures for the beef industry. 

Currently, trained USDA veterinarians weed out diseased hogs when they arrive at plants. Under the proposed system, plant employees would bear a greater responsibility to identify them and contaminated pork, and plant owners would decide how much, if any, training employees receive for that. Plants would also no longer have limits on slaughter-line speeds, Kindy reports.

"Pat Basu, the chief veterinarian with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service from 2016 to 2018, refused to sign off on the new pork system because of concerns about safety for consumers and livestock," Kindy reports. "The USDA sent the proposed regulations to the Federal Register about a week after Basu left, and they were published less than a month later, according to records and interviews." USDA officials declined to be interviewed until the rules are final.

Basu's main objection was putting possibly untrained plant workers in charge of identifying diseased hogs. An outbreak of a contagious disease could cost pork producers and the public $188 billion and state and federal governments $11 billion, Kindy reports. 

In an unusual move, the FSIS issued a statement saying Kindy's article was false. "It’s important to understand that under the proposal, establishment employees will not conduct inspections and they will not condemn animals," the USDA said. "The Post’s decision to continue to parrot arguments that are devoid of factual and scientific evidence only serves to further the personal agenda of special-interest groups that have nothing to do with ensuring food safety."

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