Swine Inspection Program Would Increase Efficiency, Harvest Capacity

( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

By Dan Kovich, NPPC

By the end of the year, a new swine inspection system could be in place, increasing efficiency and effectiveness, allowing for the rapid adoption of new food-safety technology in pork processing and potentially increasing U.S. harvest capacity. Unfortunately, some in the media have misreported the intent of the USDA proposal. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) fully supports the new proposed system and is actively rebutting these falsehoods as we await the final rule.

First and foremost, under the proposed New Swine Inspection System, the USDA’s authority remains unchanged. Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors retain their inspection roles at each stage of processing. Under traditional inspection, FSIS inspectors do both the inspection and the manual labor to prepare the animal for inspection. Under the new proposed system, plant employees will do a lot of that manual labor and screen the animals to get rid of those with obvious problems. Only an FSIS inspector can say “Yes” to move a carcass along the line, and 100% inspection remains the standard. This is more efficient and promotes a safer food supply. 

Second, USDA and FSIS resources are limited. Freeing inspectors from production lines would allow them to focus on other critical areas such as sanitation, animal welfare, microscopic inspection, food-safety plans and general plant conditions. FSIS has refuted claims that it will reduce the number of federal inspectors and replace them with plant employees. FSIS states that it “will make inspection staff determinations on a case-by-case basis to ensure that 100% inspection and other critical public health activities are carried out.”

Finally, the new system would enable processing facilities to operate more efficiently and at higher capacity. Plants could dedicate more employees than FSIS for the physical labor required for inspection at each stage of production. Again, FSIS still inspects production, but plant employees can facilitate inspection at a greater rate. This, coupled with the ability to rapidly implement new production technologies, could increase line speed without affecting food safety. Current line speed caps are a consequence of the limitations of current inspection capacity, i.e. the limited FSIS resources available for line work. Under the proposed new system, FSIS still retains process line speed control in order to ensure 100% inspection.

The proposed New Swine Inspection System is the result of over two decades of work started under the Clinton administration to make the pork inspection process more efficient, while maintaining the safest food supply in the world. Much has changed since the 1967 Wholesome Meat Act and our inspection system should reflect our current science-based understanding of risk, disease and food safety. A modern meat inspection system is clearly in the best interest of public health.

Washington Watch columnist Dan Kovich serves as the director of science and technology for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). He focuses on food and feed safety and animal handling issues. He previously managed state animal welfare and control programs for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. As well, he served as the staff veterinarian for animal health and welfare in the department’s Office of Veterinary Services and as a foreign animal disease diagnostician. Kovich received a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Iowa State University and earned a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Minnesota. 

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