USDA to Large-Scale Pork Producers: Go Faster

If you want to give yourself nightmares, read about how pork is processed on large factory farms. (My recommendation? Start with the excellent book Righteous Porkchop.)

Pork processing is a rough, bloody business, but it’s also a marvel of modern engineering and human endurance. On the typical large factory pork farm, mammoth hog carcasses travel down an assembly line, more than 975 per hour. Workers then frantically butcher the meat, often at great personal risk. According to a paper published in 2016 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “workers continue to face the hazardous conditions GAO cited in 2005, including tasks associated with musculoskeletal disorders, exposure to chemicals and pathogens, and traumatic injuries from machines and tools.”

What does the government want pork producers to do about this? Go faster.

In a statement released last week, the USDA, which is aggressively pursuing deregulation under the Trump Administration, announced an overhaul for hog slaughter that would reduce the role of inspectors on the kill line and speed up production. Pork company employees, rather than federal inspectors, would provide most of the oversight. Companies would also “determine their own evisceration line speeds.”

Consumer and worker-rights advocates quickly condemned the idea. Debbie Berkowitz, senior fellow for worker safety and health with the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement the plan would “needlessly jeopardize consumers’ safety and the safety and well-being of the tens of thousands of workers who already endure exceedingly harsh working conditions to provide cheap meat to American consumers.” Rather than benefiting consumers, faster processing speed would sacrifice worker health “to benefit corporate interests,” Berkowitz said.

How much faster can it get? A lot. Under a pilot program, the USDA has already allowed a handful of monolithic slaughterhouses to speed up operations. The program, known as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based Inspection Models Project, or HIMP, has recorded kill line speeds of up to 1,295 hogs per hour. But the speed comes at a cost. A 2013 audit by the USDA found that HIMP plants, while much faster and more efficient, had “a higher potential for food-safety risks.”

What can you do? Comment.

There will be a 60-day comment period on the proposed rule once it is published in the Federal Register. Go here to learn about the rule and how to comment. 

NOURISH. CULTIVATE. COOPERATE.

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Ken Davis

Ken Davis

Ken is a writer in the Co-op Outreach Department. Email him at kdavis@coopfoodstore.com.