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USDA Endangers Hog Slaughter Workers, Consumers

Statement of Shanna Devine, Worker Health and Safety Advocate, Public Citizen

Note: Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its final rule, “Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection,” which will remove the current maximum limits on line speeds in hog slaughter plants and largely privatize the inspection process. Research demonstrates that increased line speeds lead to greater worker injuries and food safety breakdowns, and according to new polling, the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose this proposal. The USDA Office of Inspector General is evaluating whether the agency withheld information and used flawed data during the rulemaking process, and the U.S. House of Representatives is considering legislation to delay implementation of the rule. Public Citizen submitted public comments in opposition to the proposal last summer.

It is reckless for our nation’s food safety agency to rush through this flagrant anti-worker, anti-consumer proposal.

For more than a decade, USDA whistleblowers have warned that workers cannot identify fecal matter and diseases on hogs under faster line speeds. Eliminating line speed maximums puts consumers at further risk.

Swine processing workers, many of whom are of color or are immigrants, already face some of the highest workplace injury rates in the country. USDA’s action today will put them at even greater risk of repetitive stress injuries, lacerations and amputations. USDA’s response that worker safety is not its concern is outrageous.

Allowing plant management to decide for itself what line speeds are safe and privatizing the inspection process is a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse, and it must be stopped before irreparable harm is done.