Last Friday, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) released affidavits from four federal inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s high-speed inspection pilot program who have come forward with their concerns about the system.
“Under the HIMP model, company inspectors take over the duties of USDA inspectors at the lymph node incision and head inspection stations,” wrote the first anonymous inspector. “Line speeds under HIMP have increased from about 1100 hogs per hour to about 1300 per hour, but there is still the same number (3) of inspectors on the line.”
Joe Ferguson, an inspector for 23 years, wrote that it’s impossible to catch defects on the program because of the increased line speeds.
“We used to be stop [sic] the line for bile contamination, chronic pleuritic, hair/toenails/scurf and have these defects trimmed/removed, under HIMP, these are considered ‘Other Consumer Protections’ and we are no longer allowed to stop the line so they may be removed,” he wrote. “The only time we are allowed to stop the line is for food safety concerns, and even then we get yelled at.”
The third anonymous inspector wrote that they have “identified a number of critical problems with the program, including the flawed data upon which the program is based, the inability of plant personnel to adequately take over USDA inspectors’ duties, and a decrease in food safety and quality that comes along with this switch to company inspection.”
GAP has also been using the affidavits to promote its Change.org petition calling on Hormel, one of the largest pork producers in the U.S., to withdraw its hog plants from the pilot program.
The company owns three out of five hog plants currently participating in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Inspection Models Project (HIMP).
USDA’s evaluation of all five pilot plants last November stated that there was “no reason to discontinue HIMP in market hog establishments.”
“Based on these initial findings, the food safety outcomes at the pilot facilities are on par with those operating under other inspection systems,” a Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) spokesperson told Food Safety News at the time. “However, additional analyses, including a science-based risk assessment, will be required to determine its impact on foodborne illness rates, and whether this pilot program could be applied to additional establishments.”
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from August 2013 recommended that FSIS continue its evaluation of its pilot project for young hogs and collect and analyze the information necessary to determine whether the pilot project is meeting its purpose, and the agency concurred.