WASHINGTON, D.C. (KETK) – The Trump administration will allow pork plants to reduce the number of Department of Agriculture line inspectors assigned to them and run their slaughter lines without any speed limit under a new rule intended to modernize an antiquated inspection system. But the changes have alarmed consumer advocates who believe the rule will make food less safe and endanger workers.
The new rule will let factory workers, rather than USDA inspectors, remove unsuitable carcasses and trim defects in plants that opt into the new inspection system. USDA inspectors will still examine the carcasses, but they will be stationed farther down the line, and off-line inspectors will be roaming the factory to conduct other kinds of safety checks.
“This regulatory change allows us to ensure food safety while eliminating outdated rules and allowing for companies to innovate,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement Tuesday unveiling the new rule.
The USDA says that the rule is the first time in more than 50 years that pork inspections will be modernized, making food safer by focusing inspectors’ attention on more targeted safety checks rather than visual line inspections. The agency estimates that the change will reduce the total number of USDA inspectors at pork plants by 40 percent, saving about $8.7 million a year.
Industry groups cheered the USDA’s announcement, which comes more than 20 years after the federal government launched a pilot program to test the new system.
“We applaud the USDA for introducing a new inspection system that incentivizes investment in new technologies while ensuring a safe supply of wholesome American pork,” David Herring, president of the National Pork Producers Council, said in a statement.
But consumer advocates fear that factory workers will not be as well trained or independent as USDA inspectors, and that they could miss critical signs of disease and contamination, endangering the public.
“This rule puts industry profits ahead of public health,” said Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy for the Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group. He called the rule “a recipe for food safety disaster.”
Monday, According to NBC News: A food workers’ union filed a federal lawsuit to block a Trump administration move to end limits on the speed of pork slaughter lines, arguing the new rule would lead to more injuries among employees and increase the risk of unsafe pork.