WASHINGTON – The US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) criticized a report in The Washington Post claiming that the Trump administration plans to shift more control over food safety inspections at processing plants to the pork industry.

“The Washington Post says that democracy dies in darkness. If that’s the case, then The Washington Post’s story about the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is a solar eclipse,” the FSIS Office of Congressional and Public Affairs said in a statement.

The April 3 article stated that, under a new proposed inspection system, 40 percent of federal food safety inspectors would be cut and replaced with plant workers; plant workers and federal inspectors would share responsibility for identifying diseased and contaminated pork; and there would be no limits on processing line speeds. The USDA provided counterpoints to the issues reported in the article.

“Much has changed since the 1967 Wholesome Meat Act, including the old ‘poke and sniff’ methods that were developed using an outdated understanding of risk and disease,” USDA said in response to the assertion that the pork industry would have more control over food safety inspections. “With modernized hog slaughter, FSIS is moving inspection closer to an approach supported by current food safety science. In fact, FSIS conducted a 20-year pilot called the HACCP-Based Inspection Model Project (HIMP) in five market hog establishments. The pilot has been ongoing throughout four presidential administrations producing the safest food supply in the world. Modernizing inspection through science is clearly in the best interest of public health.”

In response to the claim that the proposed new inspection system would cut about 40 percent of federal inspectors, USDA said, “FSIS is not reducing the total number of federal inspectors by 40 percent and is not replacing our inspection personnel with plant employees that will conduct inspections. FSIS will make inspection staff determinations on a case-by-case basis to ensure that 100 percent inspection and other critical public health activities are carried out.

“Should the proposed rule become final, federal inspectors won’t be performing quality assurance tasks. Instead they would be able to focus on critically important activities.”

In January 2018, USDA proposed the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS), which the agency said would modernize pork plant inspections. A proposed new rule would establish the system which would increase the number of offline inspection tasks of USDA food safety inspectors while continuing 100 percent FSIS inspection of hog carcasses. The rule also would require pork processors to implement HACCP-based inspection measures that prevent contamination throughout the entire production process.

FSIS said that the new system likely would result in a lower prevalence of Salmonella on market hog carcasses and thus lead to fewer human foodborne illnesses. Also, the proposed new system is expected to improve animal welfare and compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) because more FSIS resources will be available to verify humane handling offline.

“FSIS is appalled at The Washington Post’s poor attempt at explaining a proposal to modernize inspection,” the agency said. “The Post’s decision to continue to parrot arguments that are devoid of factual and scientific evidence only serves to further the personal agenda of special interest groups that have nothing to do with ensuring food safety.

“Despite FSIS spending countless hours responding to The Post and providing clarification about the proposed rule, The Post chose to ignore the information and went with an already formed opinion and headline.

“Shame on you, Washington Post. This story earns you at least four Pinocchios.”