Risking food safety, USDA plans to let slaughterhouses self-police
More than a century ago, Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" exposed unsafe and unsanitary conditions in our nation's slaughterhouses. Sinclair singled out breakneck line speeds as a key source of misery, noting, "The main thing the men wanted was to put a stop to the habit of speeding up, they were trying their best to force a lessening of the pace, for there were some, they said, who could not keep up with it, whom it was killing."
Sinclair's stomach-churning account led Congress to create a new agency in charge of food safety in slaughterhouses. Among the reforms implemented were rules to slow down line speeds so that government inspectors could ensure that diseased or feces-covered meat and poultry did not end up on consumers' plates. Now, if the Trump administration gets its way, pork slaughterhouses will be allowed to drastically increase their line speeds, with potentially disastrous results for workers and consumers.
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 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (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.