New USDA rules will allow slaughterhouses to “self-police” in place of external inspection.
The optional new Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) will give slaughterhouses the option of developing and performing their own inspections. This will take the place of traditional, external regulation by The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Last September, the USDA released a press statement announcing plans to “modernize swine slaughter inspection” with internal auditing. The new federal meat inspection regulations will allow slaughterhouses to tailor inspections to suit “their specific operations.”
This means that slaughterhouses will no longer have to adhere to a national standard.
The USDA says the new legislation will: “Remove unnecessary regulatory obstacles to industry innovation.” In particular, “by revoking maximum line speeds and allowing establishments flexibility to reconfigure evisceration lines.”
Previously, line speeds were strictly limited by the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906. Limited line speeds facilitate more comprehensive quality checks, better worker safety, and better animal welfare.
In contrast, higher line speeds are not conducive to worker safety or careful inspection. De-regulating it could lead to a higher rate of contamination, disease, animal cruelty, and accidents.
The new rule also aims to remove most external inspectors from production lines. Instead, a small number of company employees will carry out production line inspection, though no special training will be required.
Some watchdog groups have argued that the FSIS is acting for the financial benefit of giant meat producers – many of whom are expected to choose self-assessment. In 2013, an audit by the Office of Inspector General suggested that the new system showed “a higher potential for food safety risks.”
The Importance of Auditing
In contrast to the USDA’s emphasis on self-assessment, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently closed three major slaughterhouses following an E. coli outbreak.
Ryding-Regency Meat Packers, Canadian Select Meats Inc., and The Beef Boutique Inc. had their licenses revoked after providing “false or misleading information” about E. coli lab results.
Activists have also accused the Toronto-based meatpackers of cruelty to animals. Animal Save Movement — a global network of autonomous groups who document the conditions of animals used for food — recently exposed “horrific” animal cruelty violations at Ryding-Regency.