According to an LA Times article published online this week, President Donald Trump’s administration plans to give more authority to the pork industry, allowing them to conduct their own food safety inspections as early as May 2019. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) did not make their data public, but the National Employment Law Project obtained it through a public information request. The article says that this will cut the number of federal inspectors by about 40 percent, replacing them with pork industry employees.
If the new inspection system goes into effect, pork plant workers—who’s training will be up to their employer—will be tasked with identifying diseased and contaminated pork. Under the new system, no slaughter line speed limits would be required. Currently, line speeds are capped at 1,106 hogs per hour, or 18 hogs per minute.
Former USDA chief veterinarian Pat Basu expressed concerns about this new pork inspection system, refusing to sign off on it because he had concerns about consumer and livestock safety. In his professional opinion, making plant workers responsible for identifying and removing diseased hogs would be a mistake, and that trained USDA veterinarians were the only people who could do the job properly and effectively.
Just a week after Basu left the agency in 2018, the proposal for the new inspection system was resubmitted to the Federal Register and published soon thereafter.
USDA and the pork industry support the implementation of a new inspection system, believing that it will free up more time to identify disease and contamination in their hogs. They would be able to focus on preventing contamination, as opposed to reacting to it after it has already occurred.
Another aspect of the new inspection system is that USDA would no longer test pork for Salmonella contamination. That would become the responsibility of plant owners, and their results would not have to be made public. Also, the plants will not be required to test for Escherchia coli, either.
Once in place, it is believed that pork plants policing their own food safety inspections will produce 90% of the pork produced in the U.S.
The administration is also planning to implement the same changes within the beef industry. USDA officials are planning to discuss what that might look like next month.