On Jan. 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a proposed rule that would lift current caps on line speeds in pork processing plants and reduce federal oversight in these facilities.
The proposed rule is strongly backed by the meatpacking industry, but the fact is that raising line speeds in pork processing plants will only make a bad situation worse. Workers who bring food to our tables deserve safety and dignity on the job, and consumers deserve and demand safe food.
If the USDA proposal goes into effect as written, the result will be a higher risk of food contamination and more amputations and other disabling injuries for animal slaughtering workers.
The USDA is proposing to allow pork producers to use their own staff, in place of federal inspectors, to look for fecal matter and other contaminants on the pork processing lines. This approach has already been tried, with alarming results. A report from the USDA’s Office of Inspector General found significant problems with food safety issues at pork processing plants that have piloted “self-inspection.”
Meatpacking workers currently experience a higher rate of occupational illnesses than workers in any other industry, 17 times higher than workers nationwide. The USDA proposal is part of an industry-backed plan to privatize safety inspections at U.S. pork processing plants, which currently slaughter an average of 1,100 hogs per hour.
The USDA should put this unwise proposal back on the shelf, and come back with a plan that provides rigorous, science-based protections for everyone who produces our food – and everyone who eats it.
Co-Executive Director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health
Public health lecturer, Texas State University
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