The USDA is pursuing the privatization of food safety inspections, now with beef slaughter plants.
According to documents obtained by Food & Water Watch via the Freedom of Information Act, Tyson Foods recently requested a waiver to allow Tyson employees to conduct more inspections in place of USDA food safety inspectors.
“This dangerous proposal could rid beef slaughter plants of most government inspectors,” said the Food & Water Watch in a statement.
It seems that the USDA is planning to “deregulate the inspection system for beef slaughter plants” just like they did in the poultry and pork sectors over 20 years ago.
Back in 1998, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) launched the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), which allowed for the number of federal inspectors to be replaced by company employees at two dozen poultry plants and five hog slaughter plants. This pilot program was finalized as a new rule in 2014, the New Poultry Inspection System, and now includes the entire poultry industry. In 2018 the pork industry followed with the FSIS creating the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System.
According to the Food & Water Watch, this puts consumer safety at risk, as companies are likely to inspect themselves differently than if an outside regulator was to. Unfortunately, evaluations of the food safety impacts of the program are not scheduled to be studied until 2022. According to the USDA Office of the Inspector General, “We… found FSIS could not determine whether the goals of a pilot program… were met because FSIS did not adequately oversee the program. In the 15 years since the program’s inception, FSIS did not critically assess whether the new inspection process had measurably improved food safety at each (pilot) plant, a key goal of the program.”
Foodborne illnesses from foods has been on the rise since 2015, according to the CDC. Unfortunately for consumers, this newest move to boost a corporation’s manufacturing profits by privatizing oversight of food safety is unlikely to turn that trend around.