by Gail A. Eisnitz
In December 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will implement its “modernization” plan for the slaughter of pigs by turning over key inspection duties to the very industry it regulates.
While current regulations allow slaughterhouses to kill a staggering 1,106 pigs per hour – or one pig every three seconds – apparently that’s not fast enough for the pork industry. The Trump Administration’s new regulations remove that cap. That means pork packers killing 90% of the nation’s pigs are being given the green light to operate at unrestricted line speeds, killing pigs as fast, and as recklessly, as they want.
This move comes on the heels of the Administration’s recent decision to increase line speeds for many of the nine billion chickens slaughtered annually in the US from 140 to 175 birds per minute. The USDA is preparing to deregulate slaughter inspections in the beef sector as well. These irresponsible changes put consumers, workers, and animals at great risk.
Federal inspectors replaced by company staff
Increasing already exorbitant line speeds is being achieved by removing USDA meat inspectors and replacing them with the slaughterhouses’ own personnel. These individuals will be “trained” at the discretion of the plants and will face disciplinary action if they impede meat production.
Food safety organizations have long warned about the dangers these changes pose to the public at large. Due to concerns raised by several members of Congress, USDA’s Office of Inspector General is now investigating allegations that USDA used flawed data regarding the effects unlimited line speeds will have on worker safety. No one, however, is examining the impact these increased speeds will have on the treatment of the pigs themselves. The animals, who are considered mere cogs in the slaughterhouse wheel, will pay the highest price.
When my book Slaughterhouse was published in 1998 and updated in 2006, my investigations revealed that pigs at high volume plants were routinely dragged, beaten, excessively prodded, inadequately stunned, bled, dismembered and/or immersed in the scalding tank (for hair removal), all while fully conscious. This happened because employees at high speed plants routinely resorted to brutality as they struggled to keep the production line moving at outlandish speeds.
Enforcement went unfunded for 43 years & still is not done on killing floor
Following publication of my book, and a resulting Washington Post front page story, an outraged Congress allocated millions of dollars in funds to enforce what for 43 years had been a zero-budgeted federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA). In other words, despite the fact that the law had been on the books since 1958, no one had ever bothered to fund its enforcement.
Likewise, in 1978, USDA meat inspectors were granted regulatory enforcement authority for the HMSA, yet, again, they were never permitted to execute those duties. Thanks to the recent infusion of Congressional funding, while some inspectors are finally tasked with some humane slaughter enforcement duties, to this day there still are no full-time inspectors stationed in the areas of the plants where the animals are being slaughtered.
A recent FOIA request of USDA records revealed that pigs were still being repeatedly stunned with ineffective stunning equipment, shackled and hoisted, and bled all while fully conscious.
For example, according to USDA’s own noncompliance records, hogs remained fully conscious and in some cases were still standing after four, five, even thirteen applications of the electrical stunning device. Pigs were observed exhibiting signs of consciousness including rhythmic breathing, blinking, and the righting reflex after being stunned, shackled, hoisted, and stuck (for bleeding). Others regained consciousness after repeated stunning, hanging, and sticking and either fell off the bleed rail or ended up in the scalding tank alive.
The bottom line is this. Thanks to the new rule, the public will be put at increased risk as the responsibility for detecting diseased and contaminated product will be delegated to, or shared with, company employees. Workers will suffer the consequences as illnesses like carpal tunnel disorder will likely increase dramatically. And the primary victims – the animals – will be subjected to more unthinkable cruelty.
Time is short
USDA’s “modernization” plan for the slaughter of pigs is scheduled to go into effect on December 2, 2019.
As Congress is considering the Fiscal Year 2020 Agriculture Appropriations bill, now is the time for lawmakers to take action to stop the implementation of this ill-conceived and inhumane inspection program.
The USDA should not be allowed to reward the meat industry’s bad behavior by further deregulating that industry.
Gail A. Eisnitz is chief investigator for the Humane Farming Association, author of Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry (Prometheus, 2006), and was 2004 recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Medal, presented by the Animal Welfare Institute.