The Washington Post published a story titled, “Pork industry soon will have more power over meat inspections,” April 3. This article addressed the proposed hog inspection rule. However, they got a few things wrong and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is ready to set the record straight.
A Bold Move
Following a 20-year evaluation in five market hog establishments, the Food Safety and Inspection Service put forth a proposed rule in February 2018 to the American public – beginning a full and transparent notice and comment rule-making process.
The proposed rule includes a voluntary, opt-in inspection system. The inspection system is called New Swine Slaughter Inspection System. The new system is for market hog establishments. Additionally, there will be separate mandatory testing requirements for all swine establishments.
The proposal is backed by two decades of research. Modernizing inspection has been a priority for FSIS for the past four presidential administrations.
In the Washington Post’s story, writers reprinted talking points with their own spin. Furthermore, they claimed the agency denied interview requests. However, FSIS cannot litigate or conduct rule making through the media because they are a federal regulatory agency.
“FSIS is appalled at The Washington Post’s poor attempt at explaining a proposal to modernize inspection,” the USDA release said. “The Post’s decision to continue to parrot arguments that are devoid of factual and scientific evidence only serves to further the personal agenda of special interest groups that have nothing to do with ensuring food safety.”
FSIS spent much of their valuable time responding to The Post and clarifying issues pertaining to the rule. According to the USDA, The Post did not include any of these perspectives.
USDA Fights Back
In a recent press release, FSIS refuted the points made in The Post’s article. In the press release, FSIS stated it is “appalled” at the newspaper’s “poor attempt” in covering the proposal to modernize inspection of swine establishments.
“Shame on you, Washington Post. This story earns you at least four Pinocchios,” FSIS wrote.
The Post’s article stated there would be no limits on slaughter line speeds in hog plants. Additionally, it called into question USDA’s figures on reduced worker injuries in a trial program with the faster line speeds.
Even the headline, “Pork industry will soon have more power over meat inspections,” elicited a strong response from USDA. The USDA responded by citing the law which states only federal inspectors can do meat inspections. Additionally, only federal inspectors can apply the USDA mark of inspection. This is what consumers rely on to know the safety of their product. USDA said to imply otherwise is “sloppy, inaccurate and reckless.” Meat inspectors will remain in power over the inspection process.
Additionally, The Post’s article stated the USDA would cut the number of federal inspectors by about 40 percent and replace them with plant employees. FSIS denied this statement.
“FSIS will make inspection staff determinations on a case-by-case basis to ensure that 100 percent inspection and other critical public health activities are carried out,” the agency stated.
If the proposed rule is put in place, FSIS said federal inspectors “won’t be performing quality assurance tasks. Instead, they would be able to focus on critically important activities.” Despite what The Post’s article says, the USDA does have a plan for testing pork products for Salmonella.
“The Washington Post deliberately misleads readers here because the facts did not fit their headline and opinion. As we explained in the proposed rule, FSIS discontinued its Salmonella verification sampling program for market hogs (carcasses) in 2011. Why? Because we were finding very low rates of Salmonella on whole carcasses,” USDA said.
In reality, the proposed rule removes the carcass Salmonella performance standards for market hogs. This is because the standards have not been used since 2011 and were not being verified due to low rates of Salmonella on whole carcasses. However, FSIS still tests pork cuts and other pork products for Salmonella.
This year, they will decide whether to develop new pathogen performance standards for these products or take other actions to address Salmonella in these products.
Additionally, plant worker safety is a priority for the USDA. Though the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has jurisdiction over plant worker safety, FSIS recognizes worker safety as a critical issue.
The Washington Post failed to include OSHA, USDA said, even though this is the federal agency that has statutory and regulatory authority to enforce workplace safety and health.
The Washington Post drew attention to the new hog inspection rule proposal. However, it wasn’t the attention officials were hoping for. In fact, it took a falsified spin on information regarding the rule. FSIS took time to answer questions for The Post. However, The Post decided not to include those perspectives. Moreover, they stated FSIS refused interviews. Even so, the USDA fired back with a press release negating the statements made in The Post’s article.
Image courtesy of People’s World