In the last few weeks, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published its final rule to “modernize swine slaughter inspection and bring it into the 21st century”... and we at Compassion USA could not be more concerned.
This dangerous new rule will undoubtedly and unacceptably result in more animal suffering, more worker injuries, and more risk to consumers.
The changes instituted by this rule, known as the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS), are a product of years of political maneuvering and intense lobbying by the factory farm industry, meant solely to boost their profits at a time when consumers are more concerned about animal welfare, food safety, and environmental protection than ever before. This is not “modernization,” as the USDA claims, but massive deregulation meant to put policing power into the hands of an industry that is increasingly out of step with what Americans expect.
Consumers deserve transparency in their food system, so here’s exactly why the NSIS is bad policy:
- The NSIS abolishes line speed limits, allowing slaughter plants to run pigs through their system as quickly as possible—meaning some facilities could be slaughtering up to 1,300 pigs per hour. This reckless acceleration will jeopardize animal welfare by increasing the odds of inhumane handling, painful electric prodding, and hot water scalding of still fully-conscious animals.
- The rule will also redistribute pre- and post-slaughter inspection responsibility away from trained USDA inspectors to plant employees with unregulated training, risking increased contamination and foodborne disease. Veterinary diagnostics should not be left in the hands of those with no formal education of animal disease—especially considering that the pork industry recalled more than 600 thousand pounds of contaminated product in 2018. Former chief veterinarian of FSIS, Dr. Pat Basu, shares this concern and worries these deregulations could result in a disease outbreak.
- Faster lines speeds also mean more frequent occurrence of workplace injury in an industry already riddled with inadequate reporting and data collection problems, as well as injury rates 7.5 times higher than average. The high-speed, repetitive motions required of employees can cause musculoskeletal disorders that induce lifelong chronic pain—accelerating line speeds will only exacerbate these injuries. Our concern deepens when we consider that many employees at these facilities are low-income, POC, and often undocumented workers with few other meaningful opportunities for employment.
- Finally, independent review of the worker safety analysis performed by the FSIS during policy development shows the FSIS utilized flawed analysis based on erroneous assumptions and circumvented proper risk assessment and disclosure channels required by the Office of Management and Budget.
While this massive deregulatory shift championed by industrial agriculture is now official, the fight is far from over. Back in June, the USDA Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation of the rulemaking process at the request of 16 Congressmembers concerned by the quality of worker safety data used, as well as the agency’s failure to navigate proper rulemaking channels. Soon after, members of the House Appropriations Committee blocked funding for implementation of NSIS while calling for an expansion of the ongoing investigation, specifically as it pertains to food safety and animal welfare. Until the investigation is completed and identified issues are addressed, the NSIS is prohibited from moving forward.
We are encouraged by Congress’s active consideration of animal welfare, worker safety, and food protection, and we await the results of the investigation. In the meantime, we will continue working with food businesses and producers to ensure more meaningful changes to slaughter methods are adopted and implemented across all sectors of our food system.
Stay tuned for opportunities to take action against the FSIS’s egregious new deregulation.