The Department of Agriculture will accept comment on a proposed rule that would change the way it inspects swine slaughter facilities, saying the benefits of the move “are expected to outweigh the costs.”

The proposed rule would create a voluntary inspection system for facilities that harvest market hogs and require additional pathogen testing across all swine slaughter locations. USDA says the proposal – expected to be published soon in the Federal Register – “allows innovation and flexibility” in market hog slaughter facilities.

Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary for food safety at USDA, said Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors would still conduct carcass-by-carcass inspection as required by law, but would place a new emphasis on “offline food safety tasks that place them in areas of the production process where they can really perform critical tasks that have a direct impact on food safety.”

“There is no single technology or process to address the problem of foodborne illness, but when we focus our inspections on food safety-related tasks, we better protect American families,” she said in a release.

National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschhoff was supportive of the move to increase pathogen testing in all facilities, pointing out that a pilot program yielded positive results.

“The pilot program yielded very positive results; expanding the program is another step forward in the industry’s ongoing focus on continuous improvement of food safety and cost efficiency,” Maschhoff said.

USDA says the new requirements “would ensure that establishments implement measures to control enteric pathogens that can cause foodborne illness.

“Specifically, all swine establishments would be required to implement appropriate measures to prevent contamination throughout the entire production process,” the department said in a release.

For Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, this equates to “allowing companies to inspect themselves” and called the proposed change “irresponsible" and “radical.”

“It is unacceptable to put public health, worker safety and animal welfare at risk so that the pork industry can run faster lines and inspect itself,” Hauter said. “We urge the USDA to withdraw this proposed rule.”

Once the rule is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day comment period will be triggered.