WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is rolling out new rules that would require fewer federal inspections of pig slaughterhouses.
USDA is changing the rules so that instead of relying on federal inspectors to remove defected carcasses or trim defects, plant processors will have the option to do the job. In all cases, federal inspectors will still give the final approval further down the line.
The feds say the regulations will “provide equivalent health protections” as the current method, but consumer and labor groups disagree and argue they will endanger workers and consumers.
“We know that pork already makes hundreds of thousands of people sick every year,” said Thomas Gremillion of the Consumer Federation of America, adding that he fears those numbers will spike under the new regulations.
“By increasing line speeds, they are going to sacrifice the safety of 90,000 pork line workers across this country,” Debbie Berkowitz, a worker safety expert with the National Employment Law Project, said.
She said the USDA is ignoring decades of research that shows high-speed processing with saws and sharp knives is dangerous.
“You can’t sacrifice worker safety just for profits for the industry,” Berkowitz said.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says the rules come after a pilot program that the agency has been running since 1997.
But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who once worked on a pork processing line, said in a statement that the USDA is relying on “sketchy data to justify a major inspections change that could create unsafe working environments.”
At his request, the USDA Office of Inspector General is looking into how the rules were developed (PDF).
A spokesperson for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says the department is committed to “using the best science available to protect the American food supply.” The agency noted that under the new regulations, establishments will have to develop written rules for sanitation and self-monitoring.
The rules go into effect Dec. 2.