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USDA extends pork processing line speed trial

Plants may continue operating at increased line speeds through Nov. 30.

Joshua Baethge

March 7, 2023

2 Min Read
Pork processing line
USDA photo by Preston Keres

USDA announced it will allow New Swine Slaughter Inspection System establishments to continue operating at increased line speeds through Nov. 30. Pork industry advocates welcomed the news. The National Pork Producers Council issued a public statement shortly after the extension was announced.

“The National Pork Producers Council applauds USDA’s decision to allow eligible pork harvest facilities to continue experimenting with ergonomics, automation, and crewing while maintaining line speeds that have been proven able to protect food and worker safety for over two decades,” the statement read. “Ensuring sufficient harvest capacity is critical to allow America’s pork producers to continue to provide wholesome pork products to consumers. This extension will allow USDA to assess a final report of the data collected during the time-limited trial and determine next steps. NPPC appreciates the extension of the trial period and will continue working with the administration and Congress towards a permanent solution.”

In March 2021, a U.S. District Court in Minnesota struck down USDA’s New Swine Inspection System rule relating to line speeds at six NSIS packing plants. This ruling effectively limited line speeds to no more than 1,106 head per hour starting in June 2021. According to statistics from pork producers, this decreased the nation’s pork-producing capacity by 2.5%.

Last March, USDA established a 12-month, time-limited trial allowing higher speeds. That trial was set to expire had the latest extension not gone into effect.

Lawmakers from pork-producing states had been pushing for to the extension. Last week, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Brad Finstad, R-Minn., sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for immediate action. The letter was also signed by Sens. John Boozman. R-Ark., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., as well as Reps. GT Thompson, R-Pa., Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., Mike Flood. R-Neb., Adrian Smith, R-Neb., Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa and Tracey Mann, R-Kan. 

“While an extension until November 30 of this year is welcome news, we must continue to fight for a permanent solution for our pork producers,” Sen. Grassley said. 

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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