USDA Extends Pork Processing Line Speeds Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Tuesday that it granted a 90-day extension for trials at six pork packing plants with faster harvest line speeds. The harvest capacity facilitated by higher line speeds at the six trial plants represents over three percent of national capacity. Extending and making permanent this added capacity is a major NPPC priority.

In late 2019, a new USDA rule established for processing facilities the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS), which included a provision that allowed plants to determine their own line speeds based on their ability to maintain process control. In March 2021, a U.S. District Court vacated the provision, citing a lack of safety data. At NPPC’s urging, in November 2021, FSIS implemented a time-limited trial for six NSIS facilities to operate at increased slaughter line speeds for one year while collecting data to evaluate the impact of the faster speeds on worker safety. Recently, though, it was determined that the data submitted was not sufficient for such an evaluation.

In October, NPPC urged USDA to ensure line speed provisions of the trial were extended before the program’s November 30 expiration. NPPC developed an economic impact analysis estimating the loss of the trial’s added harvest capacity on producers and met with the Administration and Congress to emphasize the need to avoid this damage. In November, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. Brad Finstad (R-MN) asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting extension of the trial.

NPPC’s take: Ensuring sufficient harvest capacity at packing plants is critical to the ability of the U.S. pork industry to provide products to consumers around the globe. Without the increased line speeds at the six trial plants – and the resulting decrease in packing capacity – some producers could have incurred an additional loss of nearly $10 a head in the first and second quarters of 2024, according to industry economists. NPPC supports expanding and making permanent the NSIS line speed provisions, which could increase packing capacity and help alleviate supply issues.

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