No, this is not a joke. As a sop to agricultural conglomerates who are always eager to increase their profit margins, the Trump administration has modified Federal USDA rules governing the inspection of pork consumed by Americans. As first reported by NBC News, the new rules (known as the “New Swine Inspection System”) will reduce the number of meat inspectors who evaluate pork products during their processing, a “deregulation” that will impact over 90% of the pork that is processed in this country.
ALBERT LEA, Minnesota — America’s food inspectors are warning that “unsafe” pork is likely making it to consumers under a change in rules for meat inspection.
That change is now set to roll out nationwide to plants that process more than 90 percent of the pork Americans eat.
The new rules reduce the number of inspectors required to inspect the meat as it is processed along the line. Currently, as many as seven inspectors regularly evaluate pork products such as bacon, sausage, pork tenderloins, pork chops, and pork ribs for unwanted contaminants to protect Americans from food poisoning. That number will now be reduced to “two or three” inspectors. And those inspectors will not be required to actually inspect the food personally but will rely on reports from untrained employees of the companies themselves.
If that sounds like a recipe for widespread carelessness in processing the food we consume, consider that those “untrained employees” will have a vested interest (in the form of continued employment) in ignoring any potential contamination of their company’s products. After all, who is going to be able to trace a package of poisoned meat sold a thousand miles away back to a line-worker struggling to stay awake for their second shift? Better not to rock the boat, keep your head down, and keep your job.
Two Federal Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors who filed whistleblower complaints with the Office of Special Counsel agreed to speak publicly with NBC, describing their alarm at these changes.
As follows from NBC:
“The consumer’s being duped,” Food Safety and Inspection Service inspector Jill Mauer told NBC News. “They believe that it actually is getting federally inspected when there’s no one there to even watch or do anything about anything.”
“It’s so hard to go to work without feeling physically sick watching this just happen, unfolding in front of you,” inspector Anthony Vallone said. “Especially since you took the oath to protect the American people.”
It gets worse. The Trump rule will also eliminate any restrictions on the speed at which the pork is processed. So there will be very little time for even these “untrained workers” to spot a stray dollop of fecal matter or carcass hair as those big chunks of meat glide by on the conveyor belts. According to the inspectors interviewed by NBC, such pathogens typically include “feces, sex organs, toenails, bladders and unwanted hair.”
The North American Meat Institute, the trade association for corporate poultry and meatpackers, supports the rule change wholeheartedly and has pushed back against NBC’s reporting, saying it contained “many falsehoods and mischaracterizations,” and accusing it of political bias.
In fact, when NBC tried to contact five individual companies for comment on the rule change, it was referred by four of them to the “Pork Producers Council, “ which then pointed to NAMI for comment. One company, Smithfield, had its executive vice president for corporate affairs and compliance go on record. She stressed that as a “mother” she took “great pride” in serving her company’s products to her family.
The meat processing lobby points out that 15% of the pork already being produced for sale in this country has already been processed for over 15 years under the same rules now being put into place, through five pork-producing companies’ “pilot” participation in the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project, or HIMP, as it is known in the industry. There has been no serious increase in food poisoning from pork products distributed by those companies, according to NAMI.
But all five of the inspectors interviewed by NBC, including the two “whistleblowers,” worked at those same plants, and four additional inspectors working at those plants have, according to NBC, expressed similar concerns in sworn affidavits. Moreover, according to the CDC, it is difficult to gauge foodborne illnesses over time. And many such illnesses are attributed to “stomach flu” or some other cause, which, according to the organizations represented in NBC’s report, makes it extremely difficult to establish correlations with a certain product.
“I can’t stand silent and watch this go across the nation with the potential of the American public getting contaminated food, adulterated food, and not what they think they’re gonna get,” Mauer said. “I care that my friends, my family, my loved ones, are gonna eat this product.”
These new “deregulated “ practices will impact 92% of the pork produced in this country, as all major pork producers are expected to quickly adopt them.
According to the report, the Trump administration is now planning to target the nation’s beef supply with the same “deregulation.”