WASHINGTON – The House Appropriations Committee approved $155.3 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding for the 2020 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill. As expected, the bill contains language that blocks the US Dept. of Agriculture’s proposed plan to move the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). But the bill also contains an amendment that blocks USDA from implementing a final rule on swine inspections pending a study by the Office of Inspector General.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has advocated for an update to the swine inspection system and fully supports the final rule. Under the new system, authority over inspections would remain under the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) with plant employees doing much of the manual labor to prepare an animal for inspection, according to NPPC. Transferring manual tasks to plant employees, the logic goes, makes better use of limited USDA resources by removing inspectors from processing lines and allowing them to focus on testing, sanitation and plant conditions, among other duties.

“The National Pork Producers Council continues to support the proposed new pork inspection system, one that has been tested and scrutinized for years, as it is designed to increase efficiency and effectiveness of the federal inspection process and to provide more flexibility for adopting new food-safety technologies,” Jim Monroe, NPPC assistant vice president, communications, said in a statement.

Key elements of the rule include:

  • requiring establishment personnel to sort and remove unfit animals before ante-mortem inspection by FSIS and to trim and identify defects on carcasses and parts before post-mortem inspection by FSIS;
  • requiring establishment personnel to identify unfit animals or carcasses with a unique tag, tattoo, or similar device and immediately denature all major portions of the carcass on-site, and maintain records to document the total number of animals and carcasses sorted and removed per day;
  • requiring establishment personnel to immediately notify FSIS inspectors if they suspect an animal or carcass with a reportable or foreign animal disease (e.g., African swine fever, classical swine fever, or Nipah virus encephalitis) while conducting sorting activities;
  • shifting FSIS resources to conduct more offline inspection activities, which would allow for up to two offline verification inspectors per line per shift and would reduce the number of online inspectors to a maximum of three per line per shift;
  • requiring establishments to maintain records documenting that products resulting from their slaughter operations meet the new proposed definition of Ready-to-cook (RTC) pork product, which would be defined as any slaughtered pork product free from bile, hair, scurf, dirt, hooves, toe nails, claws, bruises, edema, scabs, skin lesions, icterus, foreign material, and odor which is suitable for cooking without need of further processing; and
  • authorizing establishments to determine their own line speeds based on their ability to maintain process control for preventing fecal contamination and meeting microbial performance measures during slaughter.

Deborah Berkowitz, Worker Health and Safety Program director at The National Employment Law Project, which opposes the rule, said, “This is a real victory for good government, consumers, animal welfare and for tens of thousands of hog slaughter workers whose safety is endangered by this rule.

“Congress has confirmed there are serious concerns about USDA’s data, analysis and process for developing this rule,” Berkowitz continued. “The agency hid analysis from the public, issued the key risk assessment without a required peer review, and violated rulemaking transparency requirements so they could ram it through quickly.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) sponsored the amendment which was adopted by voice vote.