For the Week Ending October 15, 2021
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION MAY ALLOW FASTER PORK PROCESSING LINE SPEEDS
The U.S. Department of Agriculture may allow faster line speeds at pork packing plants under a proposal now being considered by the White House. In July, packing plants operating under the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) had to slow down pursuant to a March federal court ruling that struck down the system’s increased line speed provision. NPPC aggressively engaged for months on the matter, proposing a number of options to allow faster line speeds and pointing out, including in recent comments to USDA, that increasing line speeds to the safe operating levels at which many plants operated under a 20-year pilot program would expand pork packing capacity by about 2.5 percent. (The packing industry lost that much capacity when the federal court’s ruling on the NSIS line speed provision took effect July 1.) Lost harvest capacity took away economic leverage from hog farmers, NPPC pointed out. According to industry and union sources, the line speed proposal under consideration by the administration has the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. The UFCW, which represents employees at most of the major meatpackers, brought the lawsuit against the NSIS provision that resulted in the March ruling. The new proposal would allow some pork plants to harvest more hogs per hour in return for increased staffing.
NPPC WEIGHS IN ON VISA PROCESS USED TO FILL HOG FARM JOBS
In comments that will be submitted Monday to the U.S. Department of State, NPPC is calling on immigration officials to establish a better system for considering and adjudicating applications for a visa widely used to fill hog farm jobs. Created under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the TN visa allows Canadian and Mexican professionals to temporarily fill specific job openings in the United States. NPPC has received reports that eligible applicants have been denied entry into the country for no cause and cannot appeal such decisions. Other evidence suggests applicants have been rejected because of subjective interpretations of having “sufficient ties” to their home country and about their intent to return to it. (In one case, a veterinarian with a clinic in Mexico was denied a TN visa and told the decision was final.) NPPC also made the State Department aware of a dramatic increase in audit calls to employers from visa processing officials, which delayed the disposition of visa applications by several months.
WHITE HOUSE ENDS ICE WORKPLACE RAIDS FOR UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS
The Biden administration has put a stop to “mass workplace raids” for undocumented immigrants and instead will target companies that continually flout laws that prohibit the hiring of such workers. In a memo issued Tuesday by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency was ordered to stop such raids and to develop – along with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Customs and Border Protection – plans to address employers’ abusive treatment of immigrant employees. Under the Trump administration, ICE conducted several high-profile workplace raids, with mass arrests of undocumented workers, including at more than a dozen meatpacking plants.
USDA MUST BOLSTER ANIMAL DISEASE SURVEILLANCE, RESPONSE, SAYS NPPC
NPPC late last week submitted comments on a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposal to use $300 million to improve surveillance of zoonotic diseases, including influenza strains in swine. The organization suggested APHIS establish a one-stop shop to share, investigate and integrate pathogen detection trends and sequence data and recommended it fund USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to develop an integrated system for all influenzas of animal origin and consider expanding it to other zoonotic pathogens. NPPC pointed out that the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) is central to the ability to detect, investigate and surveil for emerging and zoonotic diseases, but its capacity to take on additional testing for known pathogens, some of which may be zoonotic, must be expanded. It also recommended that APHIS increase within the National Veterinary Stockpile the equipment necessary to depopulate and dispose of animals in the event of a zoonotic disease outbreak.
CONGRESS APPROVES SHORT-TERM DEBT LIMIT INCREASE
Following the Senate’s approval last week, the House this week voted to raise until early December the country’s debt ceiling, allowing the government to borrow money to pay its debt service – the principal and interest on money it has borrowed to keep programs running. The short-term increase, ostensibly raised to avoid defaulting on debt obligations, lets lawmakers focus on hammering out the fiscal 2022 budget reconciliation and infrastructure bills. (Editor’s Note: Money collected by the Treasury by law must first pay the debt service. For fiscal 2021, nearly $3.9 trillion in revenues were collected; interest on the public debt was $562.4 billion.)
CODEX TASK FORCE ADVANCES WORK ON FOODBORNE ANTIMICROBIAL RESISTANCE
NPPC Chief Veterinarian Dr. Liz Wagstrom and Trachelle Carr, the organization’s international technical services specialist, this week and last participated in the Codex Alimentarius Commission’s Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance, working on a document for a Code of Practice to minimize and contain foodborne antimicrobial resistance and on one to establish guidelines for integrated monitoring and surveillance of foodborne antimicrobial resistance. The documents were advanced by the task force to the Codex commission – the U.N.’s international food-safety standards-setting body – which will meet next month to consider them for adoption.
FDA CALLS FOR REDUCTION OF SODIUM IN PROCESSED MEAT
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week issued final guidance for voluntary reductions of sodium in commercially processed, restaurant, packaged and prepared foods. For pork, FDA recommends a sales-weighted average reduction of 41-747 milligrams (mg) of sodium per 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, of product. (So, a 3.5 ounce serving of cooked pork sausage with 930 mg of sodium should have, under the new guidelines, an average of 840 mg.) According to NPPC, which monitored development of the FDA guidance, most pork processing companies have taken steps over the past few years to reduce sodium in their products.) In issuing the sodium reduction recommendations, FDA pointed out that more than 70 percent of sodium intake is from sodium added during food manufacturing and commercial food preparation. The average sodium intake in the United States is about 3,400 mg a day, while USDA’s 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises consumption of no more than 2,300 mg daily. (Click here to read the sodium reduction recommendations.)
CALIFF TO BE NOMINATED TO HEAD FDA
President Biden is expected to nominate former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf to return to the top role at the regulatory agency. He served as commissioner from February 2016 to January 2017 and was deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco from February 2015 until his appointment as commissioner. Prior to joining the FDA, Califf was a professor of medicine and vice chancellor for clinical and translational research at Duke University.