Pork Industry Gains More Power Over Inspections

usda pork inspection

Beginning in early May, the Trump Administration will be shifting the bulk of inspections in the pork industry from USDA inspectors to plant employees. Understand that is shifting inspections from an outside agency that has the good of the public in mind to in-house employees whose employment depends on keeping the plant running and the boss happy.

Does anybody see any potential problems with that arrangement?

From Kimberly Kindy of the Washington Post in the Los Angeles Times of April 3rd:   

“The Trump administration plans to shift much of the power and responsibility for food safety inspections in hog plants to the pork industry as early as May, cutting the number of federal inspectors by about 40% and replacing them with plant employees.

Under the proposed new inspection system, the responsibility for identifying diseased and contaminated pork would be shared with plant employees, whose training would be at the discretion of plant owners. There would be no limits on slaughter-line speeds.”

Can in-house inspections lead to problems that may have been stopped by outside inspectors? Here is a recent example:

“These proposals, part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to reduce regulations, come as the federal government is under fire for delegating some of its aircraft safety oversight responsibilities to Boeing, which developed the 737 Max jets involved in two fatal crashes over the last six months. Federal Aviation Administration certification of the two aircraft involved in the crashes took place under the Trump administration, but the major shift toward delegating key aspects of aviation oversight began during the George W. Bush administration.”

The parallels are drawn by Pat Basu, chief veterinarian with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service from 2016 to 2018:

Pat Basu, the chief veterinarian with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service from 2016 to 2018, refused to sign off on the new pork system because of concerns about safety for both consumers and livestock. The USDA sent the proposed regulations to the Federal Register about a week after Basu left, and they were published less than a month later, according to records and interviews.

“Look at the FAA. It took a year or so before the crashes happened,” Basu said. “This could pass and everything could be OK for a while, until some disease is missed and we have an outbreak all over the country. It would be an economic disaster that would be very hard to recover from.” 

Some folks may remember the book “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair that was written 115 years ago. “The Jungle” exposed unsanitary conditions in the meat packing industry of the time and led to laws on sanitation and inspection that have made our food systems among the safest in the world.

An old claim of those who believe in the market as the final decider claim that if a company is marketing below standard product, the market will correct that company with smaller market share. By below standard my guess is that may include pathogens that could make a person violently sick or kill them. 

Unwittingly, Americans have become pawns in the Trump administration’s game of cutting government back. While the rich garner the rewards of these cutbacks, some of us pawns may be paying with our very lives. 

Enjoy that Easter Ham.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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