WAPO Gets it Wrong on Pork Inspection

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HOTH was disappointed to read a Washington Post story this week on a new pork inspection system under USDA consideration. The new system, one that has been tested and scrutinized for years, is designed to increase efficiency and effectiveness of the federal inspection process and to provide more flexibility for adopting new food-safety technologies. Dr. Dan Kovich, NPPC director of science and technology, shared these and many other thoughts with the reporter who filed the Post’s story. Dan is a veterinarian, served in the U.S. Public Health Service, assigned to the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, and previously managed state animal welfare and control programs for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He was also the staff veterinarian for animal health for Virginia, where was as a foreign animal disease diagnostician.

Since the Post decided to ignore Dan’s expertise, we caught up with him to get his take on their story. These are the facts he wants all consumers to know.

The new system will not “shift power and responsibility” from USDA inspectors to plants. USDA authority remains unchanged. The new system allows its inspectors to spend less time on manual labor while focusing more on overseeing sanitation, food safety plans and general plant conditions.  

The proposed system does not give “plant workers the responsibility for identifying and removing live diseased hogs.” This function is one well-trained plant employees have handled very effectively for years. Regardless, USDA retains ultimate authority. The assertion by a former USDA veterinarian that “the job should remain with trained USDA veterinarians” is misinformed.  

Several food-safety statements are misleading or incorrect. To say there are “no plans under the new system to test for salmonella” is puzzling. USDA stopped testing for salmonella on pork carcasses years ago because the agency was not finding value in it. USDA continues to pay close attention to salmonella in the pork-processing chain.

The proposed rule changes nothing regarding disclosing pathogen testing results. Stating that plants will “no longer be required to test for E. coli” ignores the fact that they still must test for indicator organisms. Years of generic E. coli testing tell us it is not the best way to evaluate food safety systems.

U.S. pork processors have an excellent food-safety track record. They have absolutely no interest in short-cutting food safety. It’s unfair to suggest otherwise.