Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Dems want to see USDA data behind plan to let pork plants do some of their own inspections and lift line-speed limits

Inspector at a hog slaughterhouse (Photo from Pinterest)
House Democrats are balking at a Department of Agriculture plan to shift some safety inspections from federal inspectors to pork-plant employees and lift all restrictions on speeds of processing lines.

During an Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday, Democrats ordered USDA's inspector general to investigate data used when the agency developed the new program. An investigation "could delay the proposal by months and, depending on the findings, could lead to changes or a withdrawal of the proposal, experts said," Kimberly Kindy reports for The Washington Post. But before that could happen, the Republican-controlled Senate would have to go along, because the order is an amendment to the USDA appropriations bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The plan, which USDA proposed in February, was expected to be finalized this summer. It would reduce the number of federal inspectors on slaughter lines by about 40 percent and would save the agency an estimated $6 million annually; eliminating the cap on line speeds, now 18 hogs a minute, would increase meatpacker profits by more than $2 million a year.

Democrats on the committee cried foul."I believe it would endanger food safety, worker safety and animal welfare," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. She introduced the order, which "calls for an investigation into all data used by the USDA to develop the proposal, including worker-safety data that was not publicly disclosed until after the closure of the public review and comment period for the proposed rule," Kindy reports. "It also said no federal funds should be used for the new system unless any problems identified by the inspector general were first addressed."

Kindy notes, "The proposed rule is based on a study that began 20 years ago, ultimately including five large test plants. Efforts to expand the program have sputtered under past administrations, but Trump administration officials have said for months that they expect the system to be in place soon. The agency said that 40 of the 612 hog plants want to use the proposed system; those seeking to opt in would collectively account for 90 percent of the pork consumed in the United States."

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