USDA introduces swine inspection system change

By Aidan Fortune contact

- Last updated on GMT

USDA introduces swine inspection system change

Related tags: Pork

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has introduced a new swine inspection system it believes will “modernise” the sector to a mixed reaction.

Its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is "modernising inspection at market hog slaughter establishments with the goal of protecting public health while allowing for food safety innovations", ​by removing maximum line speeds and shifting processing line inspections to plant employees.

The final rule introduced has new requirements for microbial testing that apply to all swine slaughterhouses to demonstrate that they are controlling for pathogens throughout the slaughter system. Additionally, FSIS is amending its meat inspection regulations to establish a new inspection system for market hog establishments called the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS).

In the final rule, FSIS amends the regulations to require all swine slaughter establishments to develop written sanitary dressing plans and implement microbial sampling to monitor process control for enteric pathogens that can cause foodborne illness. The final rule also allows market hog establishments to choose if they will operate under NSIS or continue to operate under traditional inspection.

The FSIS will continue to conduct 100% inspection of animals before slaughter and 100% carcass-by-carcass inspection, as mandated by Congress. FSIS inspectors will also retain the authority to stop or slow the line as necessary to ensure that food safety and inspection are achieved. Under NSIS, FSIS offline inspectors will conduct more food safety and humane handling verification tasks to protect the food supply and animal welfare.

“This regulatory change allows us to ensure food safety while eliminating outdated rules and allowing for companies to innovate,”​ Secretary Sonny Perdue explained. “The final rule is the culmination of a science-based and data-driven rule making process which builds on the food safety improvements made in 1997, when USDA introduced a system of preventive controls for industry. With this rule, FSIS will finally begin full implementation of that program in swine establishments.”

The new system was welcomed by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). “We applaud the USDA for introducing a new inspection system that incentivizes investment in new technologies while ensuring a safe supply of wholesome American pork,”​ said president David Herring. “The US pork production system is the envy of the world because we continuously adopt new practices and technologies, while enhancing safety, quality and consistency. This new inspection system codifies the advancements we have made into law, reflecting a 21st century industry.”

The North American Meat Institute gave it a more cautious welcome. “Although we have not reviewed the final rule in detail, FSIS has created this system by relying on science and years of experience that will continue to ensure the consumer is getting safe and wholesome pork,”​ said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “The New Swine Inspection System will allow plants who choose to participate an opportunity for food safety innovation, a benefit to consumers and our industry at large. Under both the new and existing systems, our members’ highest priorities are to provide safe products to the public and to ensure the workforce on which they depend, is also safe.”

The change had long been opposed by certain quarters and the USDA announcement has prompted criticism from a US consumer group. 

Consumer Federation of America’s director of food policy Thomas Gremillion said: “This final rule puts industry profits ahead of public health. Higher line speeds, fewer inspectors, and no microbiological pathogen performance standards are a recipe for a food safety disaster. USDA’s principle evidence that the rule will not increase foodborne illness is a risk assessment that has been thoroughly discredited. Contaminated pork sickens hundreds of thousands of people each year in the United States, and causes over 10% of illnesses from Salmonella. The stakes are simply too high to rush forward with a rule like this that introduces sweeping changes to the inspection system without reliable measures in place to assess their impact."

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