WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2016 – A bipartisan group of 60 lawmakers is urging USDA to delay publishing a proposed rule for inspecting hog-slaughter facilities, saying the plan undermines food safety and worker safety as well as animal welfare.
“We are concerned that these new rules are being pushed by the industry to increase profits at the expense of public health,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Due to these concerns, we urge FSIS (USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service) to delay publishing a proposed rule until the agency has thoroughly addressed the … inspection model’s impact on the public, workers, and animals.”
The proposed inspection regime – the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) – focuses more control for food safety and other consumer protection activities on the slaughter establishment than the traditional inspection system, according to FSIS. Agency personnel would focus on carcass and verification system activities. FSIS says it expects the system to yield increased food-safety and other benefits to consumers, and will permit FSIS to deploy its in-plant resources more effectively.
The lawmakers, however, are concerned that fewer inspectors would increase food safety risks.
“Before expanding the HIMP program to hog slaughter facilities across the country, FSIS should provide some assurance that removing government inspectors from these facilities, and relying on company employees to take over many of their duties, would not lead to process control shortcuts, increased fecal and other adulteration of meat products, higher incidences of microbial contamination, and ultimately, a rise in foodborne illness. Thus far it has not provided such assurance,” the lawmakers said in the letter.
Additional concerns raised by the lawmakers regarding the hog slaughter pilot program include:
•That the HIMP model does not demonstrate that it reduces contamination, and therefore rates of foodborne illnesses;
•That current evidence suggests that the hog HIMP model will undermine the integrity of food safety;
•That facilities are engaging in rapid processing speeds that result in thousands of debilitating injuries including: cuts, lacerations, and musculoskeletal disorders; and
•That the rapid line speeds present one of the greatest risks of inhumane treatment of animals, as workers are often pressured to take violent shortcuts to maintain speed.
“Any proposed rule is expected to be largely based on the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), the lawmakers said, noting that the Government Accountability Office “raised serious questions about whether HIMP data being used by FSIS supports USDA’s claims of improved food safety benefits, further calling the wisdom of this this approach into question.”
USDA issued a similar rule governing poultry slaughter in 2014.