Meat & Livestock News

Senate Committee Urges USDA Action on Swine Slaughter Inspection System Deadline

The United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry has raised concerns over the impending November 30 deadline set by the USDA for the time-limited trial (TLT) of the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS).

Currently, six processing plants in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania operate under the TLT, which permits increased line speeds.

The Committee has highlighted that the USDA has yet to establish a permanent solution or issue an extension for the NSIS trial. This inaction, according to the Committee, is exacerbating economic uncertainty for hog farmers, particularly as profitability for farrow-to-finish hog operations is at its lowest in over two decades.

Approximately 40% of the US hog supply is within 100 miles of these six processing plants.

Without a permanent solution or an extension of the TLT, these processors will face operational capacity reductions. This decrease in processing capacity could lead to reduced demand for hogs, disrupt the supply chain for US hog farmers and processors, and contribute to the ongoing inflation in the US food supply.

Dermot Hayes, a professor of economics and finance at Iowa State University, estimates that the expiration of the TLT could lead to at least a 2.5% reduction in pork processing capacity nationwide. This translates to nearly 260,000 fewer hogs processed per month.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has expressed support for maintaining the higher line speeds allowed under the NSIS. The NPPC argues that the potential expiration of the NSIS trial at the end of November poses a financial threat to pork producers amid current economic challenges.

They urge the USDA to preserve this added harvest capacity, noting that increased inspection speeds have been maintained for over two decades without compromising food or worker safety.

The TLTs began as a collaboration between the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to explore ergonomics, automation, and crewing in creating work environments that ensure food and worker safety while maintaining productivity.

In November 2021, the USDA approved six facilities to run TLTs and operate at line speeds exceeding the maximum of 1,106 heads per hour. This limit was enforced on June 30, 2021, following a federal court ruling that vacated a provision of the NSIS allowing pork processors to establish maximum line speeds.

As the deadline approaches, the Senate Committee has requested the USDA to provide guidance and certainty, warning that the current situation could worsen the economic conditions for hog farmers now and in the future. At the time of publication, the USDA had not responded to a request for comment.