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Could this federal rule make pork production unsafe?

Brittany De Lea

The largest overhaul of federal hog-slaughtering rules in decades is facing opposition from a union that claims it will put worker and consumer safety at risk.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that regulates the line speed limits in pork slaughter plants, which is viewed as benefitting pork companies.

The guidelines lift restrictions on how many hogs plants are allowed to process each hour and it gives companies more control over parts of the inspection process. For example, employees will be able to remove meat from the inspection line with defects. The final inspection would still remain with the USDA. The adoption of the rule is optional.

“Increasing pork plant line speeds is not only a reckless giveaway to giant corporations, it will put thousands of workers in harm’s way,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement. “This new rule would also dramatically weaken critical protections that Americans depend on to be able to select safe, healthy food to feed their families every day.”

The group also says there is no evidence that increasing line speeds can be done in a way that ensures both food and worker safety. The USDA says the rule is backed by a 20-year research evaluation involving five plants.

The rule was first proposed in Feb. 2018. The USDA defended the modification to inspection duties in April by saying federal inspectors would not be responsible for performing quality assurance tasks, but would instead focus on “critically important activities.” It also said it does not have the authority to regulate issues related to establishment worker safety, which lies with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The union represents 250,000 workers in meatpacking and food processing, and another 30,000 workers in pork plants.

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Meanwhile, California was sued over a proposition that aims to make sure animals being raised for consumption are not housed in spaces that are too small. The North American Meat Institute challenged the constitutionality of the rule, arguing it would increase costs significantly for both consumers and producers. And on Monday, President Trump signed a trade deal with Japan, which he said would be a big win for American farmers.

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