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Will it be HIMP for hogs, or will DeLauro defeat it?

One person will likely undo the good work of hundreds to make food safer.

In April 2019, I blogged about the ridiculous claims made by the Washington Post about the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) for hogs and how consumer groups were piling on in the debate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) about its announced plans to move hog inspection to HIMP for more than the five pilot plants.

The Post quoted Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) as saying: “The safety of tens of thousands of workers in pork processing plants should be USDA's priority, and right now it clearly isn't.”

Makes me wonder if he knows what the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's role is and why food safety would not be USDA's priority.

A little history might be important before I delve into the most recent action by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) to protect union jobs and not our health, which should be her priority.

HIMP was launched by a notice of intent to move that direction in the July 10, 1997, Federal Register — a long time ago. Thirty plants, including five market hog plants, were chosen to test pilot the project. FSIS, over the years, has compared the five plants to 21 others of similar size and activity.

In HIMP plants, employees of the establishments do the carcass inspections for quality control, along with fecal contamination and signs of illness.

They condemned an average of three carcasses per 1,000. Condemnation for fecal material was at a rate of only five per 10,000 and for septicemia or toxemia was a rare three per 100,000.

Remember, these are six-month-old hogs weighing 220-260 lb. — youngsters, in the grand scheme of things, and not likely to have serious health issues.

Most of those three out of 1,000 condemnations were for quality issues like bruising, fractures, etc., not for issues that might sicken consumers.

Maybe most importantly, in the HIMP plants where FSIS inspectors have more time to undertake inspection activities related to food safety, the salmonella contamination rate was only 0.69%, compared to 3.0% in traditional inspected plants.

There are 612 swine slaughter establishments nationwide, and FSIS estimates that 40 will voluntarily convert to HIMP when it is allowed.

A very similar New Poultry Inspection System was successfully launched three years ago after several attempts were made by DeLauro and others to delay or stop the launch.

FSIS announced on Jan. 19, 2018, that it was going to post proposed regulations for the New Swine Inspection System in the Federal Register for public comments. Earlier this year, the regulations were posted, and a comment period was initiated. Comments were due by May 2.

Now, it appears that DeLauro thinks FSIS is moving too fast, so she got the Democrat-controlled House Appropriations Committee to accept her amendment to the 2020 USDA funding bill requiring USDA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate the FSIS plans and “resolve any issues identified before implementing the rule.”

DeLauro is an old pro at tacking on amendments to larger bills that must pass. We called that “Christmas-treeing” a bill.

In my short time as the undersecretary for food safety at USDA, she used this tactic to stop the possibility of allow imports of cooked chicken from China with one amendment and killed risk-based inspection dead in the water with another amendment; this is one person undoing the good work of hundreds to make the food world safer.

FSIS has followed the rules mandated by Congress to create a regulation that will make pork safer, will reduce federal employees needed, will make the industry police its own lines for quality issues and, in the long run, will reduce federal dollars spent on pork inspection.

The FSIS plan follows risk-based principles (young, healthy hogs and very low contamination rates) and science-based findings to create a modern inspection system.

Science has changed since the Federal Meat Inspection Act was passed in 1906, but some things have not.

The way things have been going in Washington, D.C., in recent years, the Democrat-controlled House (235-198) will likely pass the 2020 budget bill with the amendment attached, and union jobs will be protected, science be damned.

The public, the industry, the union, Congress, the lobbyists and the consumer groups have had more than 20 years to observe and study this process, plus a comment period to express support or concerns. FSIS must answer all concerns before HIMP can be expanded.

Except for the small House Appropriations Committee and its staffers working behind closed doors, no one had any input to the amendment.

It's a heck of a way to run a government.

*Dr. Richard Raymond is a former U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food safety.

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