Sixty liberal and mostly urban congressional Democrats have weighed in with their opinions about making bacon, telling the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to further delay expansion of the 20-year old hog Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) pilot program. hogs_406x250Secretary Tom Vilsack, now President Obama’s longest serving cabinet member, already won the right to expand HIMP to all interested poultry plants over vigorous opposition that built up over two decades. The USDA’s new poultry rule was upheld by both district and appellate courts. Vilsack’s big win in the courts leaves USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service poised to issue a hog rule to expand HIMP beyond the five currently participating plants. A new hog slaughter rule would bring to an end the long controversial era of the HIMP pilots. But the 60 Democrats who signed the letter to Vilsack say “its too early to expand this regulatory regime.” Led by Reps. Rosa L DeLauro, D-Conn., and Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., the group of representatives say they support modernization of the food safety system, but “not at the expense of public health, worker safety, or animal welfare.” “We must improve hog inspection and reduce contamination from pathogens associated with port such as Salmonella and Campylobacter,” they wrote. “However, FSIS has not demonstrated that its hog slaughter pilot program actually reduces contamination, and therefore illness, rates. To the contrary, the available evidence suggests the hog HIMP will undermine food safety.” A new hog slaughter rule is not on the White House’s latest regulatory schedule, however. So, its possible Vilsack will leave hog slaughter to his successor. “Before expanding the HIMP program to hog slaughter facilities across the country, FSIS should provide some assurance that removing government inspectors from these facilities, and relying on company employees to take over many of their duties, would not lead to process control shortcuts, increased fecal and other adulteration of meat products, higher incidences of microbial contamination, and ultimately, a rise in foodborne illness. Thus far it has not provided such assurance,” the letter continues. Like the poultry rule, critics say the hog HIMP pilot plants operate their production lines too fast and that too many duties previously assigned to USDA inspectors are being “privatized.” Inspectors who are retired or who’ve sought whistleblower status are among the critics.   (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)