WASHINGTON – Meat industry leaders and the US Dept. of Agriculture are responding to a recent report by NBC News regarding a change in rules for US pork inspections.

Two Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors interviewed for the story claimed that changes in the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) would make pork “unsafe” for American consumers. Both individuals filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, followed by the NBC interview.

The news network said that the number of federal food safety inspectors would be reduced and would share responsibility for identifying diseased and contaminated pork with company workers. Plus, there would be no limits on processing line speeds. 

A representative from FSIS released the following statement regarding the NBC report: 

“FSIS decisions and policies are based on a foundation of robust science and data, using a systematic approach to ensure that we have the best food safety system possible. The agency invested significant time responding to NBC—in writing and in person. FSIS provided experts to painstakingly and thoroughly explain the public health benefits, science, and data behind our decision to modernize swine inspection, after 20 years of piloting the modernized system in 5 plants, accounting for approximately 15 percent of pork products consumers enjoy. It is very clear that NBC was not interested in reporting the facts and data because it didn’t tell the story they had pitched to their editors.”

The federal agency said that NSIS is aligned with the modernization goals and FSIS will continue to inspect 100 percent of carcasses just like the traditional hog inspection system. 

Under the new rule, FSIS said in September that the NSIS would improve the effectiveness of hog slaughter, make better use of FSIS resources and enables industry innovation by establishing maximum line speeds while allowing processors to reconfigure evisceration line. 

Companies are still allowed to operate under the existing NSIS inspection system, but all pork processors must develop sampling plans tailored to their specific operations. 

In a statement on Dec. 16, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) defended the rule change by the USDA.

“In a blatant attempt to politicize food inspection, NBC ignores the fact that the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) has been studied and proposed over the last three presidential administrations, and it gets worse from there,” NAMI said in a statement. “America’s meat and poultry packers and processors have every incentive to ensure their products are safe. Food safety is the number one priority in both NSIS and traditional pork plants. Over the last 50 years, huge advancements in food science, animal handling and meat processing have been embraced and deployed by the meat and poultry industry. In that time, the incidence of certain pathogens and injuries to workers have decreased dramatically.”

NAMI said that facilities could not operate in a way that jeopardizes food safety or worker safety.

“FSIS inspectors have the authority to slow or stop the production line at any time,” NAMI continued. “Line speeds are routinely adjusted to compensate for things like staffing shortages and other variables.”

More details of the NSIS can be found below:

  • FSIS will shift agency resources to allow up to two offline verification inspectors per line per shift while reducing the number of online inspectors to a maximum of three per line per shift.
  • Plant personnel will be required to sort and remove unfit animals before ante-mortem inspection by FSIS inspectors and to trim and identify defects on carcasses before post-mortem inspection.
  • Plant personnel also must identify with a unique tag, tattoo, or similar device any animals or carcasses that they have sorted and removed for disposal before FSIS inspection and processors must develop, implement, and maintain written procedures in their HACCP system to ensure that animals and carcasses sorted and removed for disposal do not enter the human food supply and are properly disposed of according to federal regulations.
  • Processors must maintain records that document the total number of animals and carcasses sorted and removed per day and the reasons for their removal.
  • Plant personnel must notify FSIS inspectors if they identify an animal or carcass they suspect has a reportable or foreign animal disease such as African Swine Fever, classical swine fever or Nipah virus.
  • Processors must maintain records that show their products meet the new definition of ready-to-cook pork.
  • Processors are authorized to determine their own line speeds based on their ability to maintain process control for preventing fecal contamination and meet microbial performance measures for carcasses during the slaughter operation. However, FSIS retains the ability to slow or stop the line.

The NSIS is the result of several years of experimentation by FSIS, which investigated approaches to slaughter inspections based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles starting in 1996. The agency launched a study of HACCP-based slaughter inspections in 20 young chicken, five young turkey and five market hog establishments on a waiver basis as part of the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) in 1997.