They're not going to take your cheeseburgers. They're going to make your cheeseburgers kill you.
They’re not going to take your cheeseburgers. They’re going to make your cheeseburgers kill you.
Over a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” exposed unsafe and unsanitary conditions in our nation’s slaughterhouses. Sinclair singled out breakneck line speeds as a key source of misery, noting “The main thing the men wanted was to put a stop to the habit of speeding up, they were trying their best to force a lessening of the pace, for there were some, they said, who could not keep up with it, whom it was killing.”
Sinclair’s stomach-churning account led Congress to create a new agency in charge of food safety in slaughterhouses. Among the reforms implemented were rules to slow down line speeds, so that government inspectors could ensure that diseased or feces-covered meat and poultry did not end up on consumers’ plates. Now, if the Trump administration gets its way, pork slaughterhouses will be allowed to drastically increase their line speeds, with potentially disastrous results for workers and consumers.
A new rule, finalized today, would reduce the number of government food safety inspectors in pork plants by 40 percent, and remove most of the remaining inspectors from production lines. In their place, a smaller number of company employees — who are not required to receive any training — would conduct the “sorting” tasks that USDA previously referred to as “inspection.” The rule would also allow companies to design their own microbiological testing programs to measure food safety, rather than requiring companies to meet the same standard.
Equally alarming, the new rule would remove all line speed limits in the plants, allowing companies to speed up their lines with abandon. With fewer government inspectors on the slaughter lines, there would be fewer trained workers watching out for consumer safety. Faster line speeds would make it harder for the limited number of remaining meat inspectors and plant workers to do their jobs.
The experience from a long-running pilot project that involved five large hog slaughterhouses offers some insight into the possible impact of such radical deregulation. Consumer groups reviewed the government’s data from the five pilot plants and other plants of comparable size. They found that the plants with fewer inspectors and faster lines had more regulatory violations than others.
Indeed, the pilot project gave no indication that allowing companies to police themselves produces safe food. Nevertheless, USDA concluded that self-policing would ensure food safety, based on a technical risk assessment that — in violation of OMB guidelines — was not peer-reviewed before USDA published its rule. Later, three of the five peer reviewers indicated that the study was fundamentally flawed. USDA has pressed forward with its rule regardless, dismissing this criticism as mere technicality.
It’s not only consumers of meat who would pay a price for this misguided and dangerous new rule. There are more than 90,000 pork slaughterhouse workers whose health and limbs are already at risk under the current line speed limit of 1,106 hogs per hour. Pork slaughterhouse workers will tell you that they can barely keep up with current line speeds. They work in noisy, slippery workplaces with large knives, hooks and bandsaws, making tens of thousands of forceful repetitive motions on each and every shift to cut and break down the hogs.
USDA is ignoring three decades of studies indicating that faster line speeds and the forceful nature of the work in meatpacking plants are the root causes of a staggeringly high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses.
This has been the most chaotic, outrageous, lawless administration in history.
But you have to admit if you are a big corporation of any kind you have to be thrilled with the rollbacks of regulation that have taken place under Trump. Combined with the court-packing to deny the ability of people to successfully sue, they are happy as can be. This has been the most comprehensive destruction of the regulatory system in history. They have taken a wrecking ball to anything that protects the environment and our health and safety. It’s actually kind of awe-inspiring.