On Tuesday the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a final rule to “modernize” pork slaughter plants and it’s even worse than anticipated. This rule would not only jeopardize food safety but will increase the risk of serious and permanent injury for workers in the processing plants.
The rule will remove 40% of the government food safety inspectors from the hog slaughter plants and turn over their responsibilities to untrained plant employees. This is a story that we have seen played out before with tragic consequences. The Federal Aviation Administration delegated many of its safety testing responsibilities for the 737 MAX Jets to Boeing and this resulted in two crashed airplanes and almost 350 dead earlier this year. This is an extreme example but in the five plants where this inspection system was piloted, they failed to show that they were producing safe food.
In addition to the reduction in trained inspectors, the new rule will also remove all limitations on line speeds. Workers in the meatpacking industry already face injury rates more than double the average of other private industries. They also face workplace illness rates that are 15 times higher than the average for all other industries. Allowing for faster lines will undoubtedly lead to increased lacerations, repetitive motion injuries, and other serious injuries. After decades of study, there is no evidence that line speeds can be increased in a manner that ensures food and worker safety.
Instead of thinking about the safety of the public and the safety of workers, the USDA has once again chosen to help line the pockets of a few corporations. Every worker deserves safety and dignity in their work and this rule further erodes both.