With little fanfare, the Trump administration approved a new policy to deregulate the pork processing industry.  The two biggest components of the policy are the removal of USDA inspectors from kill lines and the removal of limits on how many pigs an hour can be processed.  This deregulation might mean cheaper meat in the short term, but more sinister side effects lurk just beneath the surface.  

The new policy to replace USDA inspectors with inspectors on the company payroll might not seem like that big of a deal, but the regulations don’t include any specific amount of training that the replacements have to go through, meaning they could just as well have no clue what it is exactly that they’re looking for.  Every time the USDA looks the other way, we get a foodborne illness outbreak. Look at the government shutdown earlier this year, and the E. coli-contaminated romaine lettuce recalls that followed.  And sure, the most common pathogen found in pork, trichinosis, hasn’t been considered much of a threat for years, but pork has also been known to carry salmonella from time to time, which could be disastrous for consumers. And if the alleged proposition to do the same thing to the beef industry is carried out, we can also expect widespread E. coli outbreaks.

At the same time, we need to also keep in mind what these changes mean for the workers.  Meatpackers already suffer injuries at 2.5 times the national average, and pork processors at current line speed limitations process 16 pigs a minute.  Without these limitations, corporations are going to push harder for workers to speed up even further, causing even more injuries, including cuts suffered on the line, infections that may follow, and disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome that arise from constant, repetitive work.   

When people talk about deregulation, they often forget why the regulations existed in the first place.  The maiming and mutilation of workers, the constant contamination of workers and food alike by toxic chemicals, and amputated limbs finding their way into the meat were all reasons that the FDA was created in the first place.  I don’t think that we’re instantly going to revert to those kinds of standards, but it’s important to remember that meat industry CEOs and lobbyists care more about profits than they do about the wellbeing of workers or consumers. 

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