Statement of CSPI Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs Sarah Sorscher

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture  published a final regulation that privatizes and deregulates swine slaughter inspection, ignoring repeated calls by food safety, labor and animal welfare groups to include better safeguards for consumers, workers, and animals.

Not only does the rule transfer work once performed by USDA inspectors to private slaughterhouse employees and allow slaughter lines to run at unlimited speeds, the agency is also pressing forward without a commitment to issue new federal testing standards for monitoring Salmonella or other pathogens in meat. 

Over 83,000 individuals and groups commented on the initial rule proposed by the Trump Administration in January 2018. Overwhelmingly, the public was critical of the rule, telling the USDA not to move forward with plans to privatize and deregulate meat inspection. Yet the agency has declined to adopt key requests, including requests by CSPI and other food safety advocates to set in place federal standards for testing pathogen contamination in pork.

Rather than implement Salmonella performance standards in pork, the agency states in the final rule that it will “decide in 2019 whether to develop new pathogen performance standards” for these products. In the meantime, the agency will be allowing the swine slaughter industry to develop its own tests and then grade itself on microbiological contamination.

The USDA privatized poultry inspection under the Obama Administration. Yet in that case, the USDA responded to stakeholder concerns by maintaining slaughter line speed caps. The agency also implemented specific performance standards for testing Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry prior to privatizing poultry. These critical protections are lacking in the swine rule.

The Office of the Inspector General is currently undertaking an investigation to determine if the USDA inappropriately concealed worker safety data during the rulemaking. We urge Congress to block implementation of the final rule until that investigation is complete and the agency has identified adequate measures to prevent the rule from negatively impacting food safety, worker health, and animal welfare.

The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that over 500,000 people become ill and 82 die each year from foodborne illness attributable to pork. Salmonella is the most frequent cause of illness from pork, accounting for over 4 in every 10 pork-related outbreaks.