Risking America's Food Supply, USDA To Allow Slaughterhouses To Self-Police

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The USDA is preparing a rule change that would endanger both slaughterhouse employees and the food they produce.

The Trump administration is set to make regulatory changes that would have a potentially dire impact on the safety of America’s food supply, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture planning to relax federal oversight of the nation’s slaughterhouses.

Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at Consumer Federation of America, and Deborah Berkowitz, former chief of staff and senior policy advisor at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, described the rule changes in a recent op-ed.

A new rule, finalized today, would reduce the number of government food safety inspectors in pork plants by 40 percent, and remove most of the remaining inspectors from production lines. In their place, a smaller number of company employees — who are not required to receive any training — would conduct the “sorting” tasks that USDA previously referred to as “inspection.” The rule would also allow companies to design their own microbiological testing programs to measure food safety, rather than requiring companies to meet the same standard.

Equally alarming, the new rule would remove all line speed limits in the plants, allowing companies to speed up their lines with abandon. With fewer government inspectors on the slaughter lines, there would be fewer trained workers watching out for consumer safety. Faster line speeds would make it harder for the limited number of remaining meat inspectors and plant workers to do their jobs.

The process by which USDA officials arrived at the conclusion that such changes will not endanger slaughterhouse employees or the food they produce is extraordinarily flawed, the pair wrote.

Contrary to virtually all scientific literature currently available, the USDA said its own analysis of worker welfare found that speeding up production lines actually leads to greater workplace safety — not worse.

This analysis was never published or otherwise provided for public consumption during the rulemaking process, but when it was finally obtained via an open records request, it was found to be highly flawed.

In fact, the “USDA’s Office of Inspector General has opened an investigation into the use of faulty data, the lack of transparency and other irregularities of this rule,” Gremillion and Berkowitz noted.

Despite the investigation and myriad concerns surrounding the rule change, the Trump administration is prepared to move forward.

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