Animal rights group and athletes speak out against proposed USDA changes

7 ON YOUR SIDE (ABC7 file photo)

A battle is raging in Washington over how we process our meat. Last week, it was the chicken industry and Wednesday it's all about pork.

The USDA says a rule change would allow facilities to slaughter hogs faster and free up federal inspectors to do more to make sure the meat we eat is safe but 7 On Your Side I-Team investigator Scott Taylor has discovered some believe the rule change could lead to animals suffering.

USDA is considering speeding up hog processing lines and handing some safety inspections over to factory workers in order to free up federal inspectors to do more at facilities.

One group, Compassion Over Killing, says that's a bad idea.

Scott David with Compassion Over Killing says "By speeding up slaughter lines it actually rolls back progress and it jeopardizes animal welfare along with worker and consumer safety."

David spent six months undercover at a Minnesota slaughter house in 2015. He documented abuse that led to better animal welfare standards.

David adds "Workers are always being pressured to keep the lines moving at a high pace which leads them to be very rough with the animals."

USDA won't talk on camera but emailed:

The Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) New Swine Slaughter Inspection System proposed rule would continue the requirement of 100% carcass-by-carcass inspection by federal inspectors and allow establishment personnel to remove unfit animals before ante-mortem inspection. Also, federal inspectors would continue to slow down or stop production lines if any issues arise, just as they do now. The agency’s data, based on a 15-year pilot program, show that FSIS inspectors would perform 66% more tasks under the proposed rule that directly impact food safety for consumers across the nation. The proposed rule is open for public comment through May 2, 2018.

Matt Dopp, who is the Senior Vice President of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs with The North American Meat Institute says

This most recent campaign by Compassion Over Killing is yet another publicity stunt by a group with the stated goal of completely eliminating meat from our diets. This group is opposed to the current inspection system because it opposes using animals for food, so it’s not surprising the group would oppose any proposed changes. Also not surprisingly, their claims are not supported up by the facts. The proposed New Swine Slaughter Inspection System has been in place as a pilot project in five pork processing plants for 15 years, and it has proven to be an effective inspection program. Those five pilot plants have produced millions of pounds of safe pork and USDA has thoroughly evaluated the systems, including line speeds during that time. The data included in the proposed rule demonstrate the pilot plants have not been operating at significantly different speeds than “traditional” plants, and similarly food and worker safety and animal welfare standards are no different. Many factors affect the speed at which a facility can operate, including the number of animals being processed, staffing numbers, and equipment. With or without maximum speed limits, FSIS inspectors have the ultimate say on the most appropriate speed to ensure safety.

Compassion Over Killing just announced a "Not So Fast" USDA campaign featuring sport athletes including NBA Champ and All-Star Metta World Peace and Olympic cyclist Dotsie Bausch supporting the group's move to stop the rule changes.

Metta World Peace tweeted about the Compassion Over Killing campaign:

David says "The USDA is accepting public comments thru May 2. People can go thru to fill those out."

Next month Compassion Over Killing will be in Washington D.C. to hand in more than a quarter of a million signatures on a petition demanding the USDA not adopt any of these rule changes.

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