USDA Proposes Significant Cuts in Pork Processing Regulation
By Dan Nosowitz
Food safety concerns have been ratcheting up lately: major outbreaks of salmonella, listeria and other food-borne bacteria seem to be on the rise. Given that, you might expect any changes in federal oversight to work toward fixing that. Not so fast!
On Jan. 19, the USDA announced a proposal to "modernize swine inspection." There are a few different elements to this "modernization," many of which seem designed to maximize profit and efficiency for pork producers.
One part of the proposal wants to remove limits on line speed—the number of animals that can move through the slaughterhouse in an hour—calling this an "unnecessary regulatory obstacle to innovation." That could mean an increase in the number of hogs processed by 30 percent, according to Organic Authority. Those limits are for safety reasons; capping this removes the temptation for processors to race through hogs as quickly as possible, which could result in sloppy work.
Another major element would be a new, voluntary inspection program, called the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System. If a plant chooses to opt-into NSIS, as the USDA insists on abbreviating it (shouldn't it be NSSIS?), they'll find inspection responsibilities shifted from a USDA employee to one of their own employees, who would be tasked with removing unfit or unsafe animals from the line. The rationale? Government inspectors would have more time to perform "offline" tasks, like checking sanitation compliance. (Offline, in this instance, meaning away from the processing line, rather than away from the internet.)
Interestingly, the new proposal also requires some new sampling: "FSIS is proposing to require that all official swine slaughter establishments develop, implement and maintain in their HACCP systems written procedures to prevent contamination of the pre-operational environment by enteric pathogens." (HACCP systems are management systems for monitoring food safety.) Essentially, this requires new sampling—testing for pathogens—on areas that come in contact with the livestock, rather than only the livestock itself. Good!
Except: the requirements for actually sampling the animals have been lessened as well. If a plant passes the test a certain number of times in a row, they won't be tested as often. (Will this result in fewer onerous inspections, or a sense of complacency that could result in violations which aren't spotted in time? Who knows?) Furthermore, plants will be allowed various "alternative" sampling plans that allow for the business to effectively choose when, where and how often to be tested, rather than leaving that scheduling up to the USDA.
Rules like these have been proposed before; as a matter of fact, there was already a pilot program back in 2013 to test a hands-off approach like this. A review from the Office of the Inspector General found an inadequate amount of oversight and reporting, and that the pilot program could thus not even be judged as effective or ineffective.
Food and Water Watch, an advocacy organization, wrote in a release that these proposals are "irresponsible."
"It is unacceptable to put public health, worker safety and animal welfare at risk so that the pork industry can run faster lines and inspect itself," said Wenonah Hauter, the organization's executive director. "We urge the USDA to withdraw this proposed rule."
You can read the entire proposed rule here. We're currently in the 60-day period for comment before the rule goes into effect.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
People across New England witnessed a dramatic celestial event Sunday night.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Reichmuth
Over the last month, I've seen a number of opinion articles attacking electric vehicles (EVs). Sadly, this comes as no surprise: now that the Biden administration is introducing federal policies to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, we were bound to see a reaction from those that oppose reducing climate changing emissions and petroleum use.
The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a starting price (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000.
On Friday, China set out an economic blueprint for the next five years, which was expected to substantiate the goal set out last fall by President Xi Jinping for the country to reach net-zero emissions before 2060 and hit peak emissions by 2030.
The Great Trail in Canada is recognized as the world's longest recreational trail for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Created by the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) and various partners, The Great Trail consists of a series of smaller, interconnected routes that stretch from St. John's to Vancouver and even into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It took nearly 25 years to connect the 27,000 kilometers of greenway in ways that were safe and accessible to hikers. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and AccessNow, the TCT is increasing accessibility throughout The Great Trail for people with disabilities.
Trans Canada Trail and AccessNow partnership for AccessOutdoors / Trails for All project. Mapping day at Stanley Park Seawall in Vancouver, British Columbia with Richard Peter. Alexa Fernando<p>This partnership also comes at a time when access to outdoor recreation is more important to Canadian citizens than ever. <a href="https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200527/dq200527b-eng.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies from the spring of 2020</a> indicate that Canadian's <a href="https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/moneytalk-mental-health-during-covid-19-1.1567633" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mental health has worsened</a> since the onset of social distancing protocols due to COVID-19. </p><p>The <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/safe-activities-during-covid19/art-20489385" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayo Clinic</a> lists hiking, biking, and skiing as safe activities during COVID-19. Their website explains, "When you're outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So you're less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected."</p><p>TCT leadership took this into consideration when embarking on the accessibility project. McMahon explains that there has never been a more important time to bring accessibility to the great outdoors: "Canadians have told us that during these difficult times, they value access to natural spaces to stay active, take care of their mental health, and socially connect with others while respecting physical distancing and public health directives. This partnership is incredibly important especially now as trails have become a lifeline for Canadians."</p><p>Together, these organizations are paving the way for better physical and mental health among all Canadians. To learn more about the TCT's mission and initiatives, check out their <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/stories/" target="_blank">trail stories</a> and <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/TCT_2020-Donor-Impact-Report_EN_8.5x14-web.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Impact Report</a>.</p>