USDA’s new swine slaughter inspection system has been 22 years in the making. And if the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wants to avoid further delay, it likely must act this month or next before the federal Fiscal Year 2019 expires on Sept. 30.

The Fiscal Year 2020 Agricultural Appropriations bill in the House already includes language taking effect Oct. 1 that at least temporarily could prevent USDA from finalizing, issuing or implementing the new swine inspection rule. The USDA would have to wait for a new Inspector General report on data methods and resolve any issues the IG identified if the Senate goes along.

Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-CT, and Sen. Jeffrey A. Merkley, D-OR, want to expand the IG report. They say “include data quality and methodological concerns that call into question the validity of the Rule’s estimated impacts on food safety and animal welfare.”

FSIS began studying a new Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Inspection Model Project or HIMP-based model in 1997.

“Currently, inspector assignments vary from plant to plant across several areas of responsibility, including online inspection assignments and offline inspection responsibilities such as HACCP verification procedures, sanitation verification procedures, and other consumer protection (OCP) procedures,” according to FSIS documents. “Under the new proposed rule, certain online procedures will be consolidated, allowing more inspector time to be focused on offline procedures.”

More of an inspector’s time will be available to conduct verification procedures designed to protect human health — HACCP and sanitation verification procedures — or humane handling verification procedures.

The new inspection system would if adopted, become available to about 154 hog slaughter plants. More than 30 are likely to participate. There were five HIMP pilot plants.

The new poultry inspection program, which was also part of HIMP, went into effect in 2014. Like the new poultry inspection system, the new swine inspection system is voluntary.

Also, like poultry, some are using discussion of the the proposed swine rule to confuse the public about sorting and inspecting. Only FSIS personal are empowered to do pre- and post-mortem inspections. Plant workers have long been able to sort products.

Line speeds limits are at 1,106 pigs per hours under the legacy system limits. The new inspection system permits the Inspector-in-Charge to set the limit. HIMP pilots averaged 1,099 head per hour. The North American Meat Institute says the key to line speed safety is adequate staffing.

FSIS leadership sees the new swine inspection option as another step in the agency’s ongoing modernization program.

Once USDA publishes the final swine inspection rule, the modernization campaign will move on to beef, which was not a participant in the HIMP pilot program. Mindy Brashears, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, expects beef modernization to built with waivers from larger beef slaughter plants.

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