By: Heather Williams
Two sets of legislation are dramatically affecting the pork industry. Some are new rulings, while some are existing statutes where exemptions were removed. Some aspects are for the better, while some are creating major obstacles. There are pros and cons for each impact. This post will focus on how these new laws will affect pork farmers and what this means for the consumer.
First, the Modernization of Pork Slaughter Rule will affect the inspection process for pork processing plants. This is a new ruling that will streamline the inspection process and apply some of the practices in the poultry industry to the pork industry. Next, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) along with the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) affect emissions reporting requirements for pork farmers. These long-winded acronyms remove an exemption from a 30 year old existing law that will now require farmers to comply.
Modernization for Pork Slaughter Rule
According to the National Pork Producer’s Council reporting after a meeting last week, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says that the Modernization of Pork Slaughter Rule will pass. This rule shifts some of the food safety responsibilities from federal inspectors to the packaging plant workers.
The National Pork Producer’s Council and those who support the rule believe that it makes the federal inspection process more efficient, encourages pork slaughter facilities to adopt new food safety technologies, and will increase plant capacity. This new rule mirrors what is currently being done in the poultry industry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Alfred Almanza, is a huge supporter of the proposed inspection system. He claims that this high-speed inspection model currently used for poultry would improve public health outcomes and increase efficiency. Adapting the process to the pork industry will allow plant workers to take on the responsibilities that the federal inspectors had, streamlining the process.
Those who oppose the Rule claim federal oversight is necessary for the quality of the consumer product. The Modernization of Pork Slaughter Rule may mean less oversight and increased processing speeds due to quicker inspection processes. As it is, federal inspectors often have difficulty verifying all carcasses that come down the line. Under this new rule, the inspection process will be privatized, allowing production plant staff to perform their own inspections. Concerns over bias of workers who are paid by the plant to determine if a carcass is fit for processing or alternatively rejecting it is a major issue for those who oppose the rule citing the workers may feel inclined to minimize loss. Those who oppose the reform are skeptical of the animal welfare, employee work conditions, and that processing 1300 hogs per hour could lead to inadequate inspection. This high throughput will affect the quality of the end product and safety to the consumer.
CERCLA and EPCRA
Both the National Pork Producers Council and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association are working to delay and repeal a new final order that affects emissions in the livestock industry with respect to a current statute that provides an exemption to be removed. If passed, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) that will take effect June 2, will require livestock farmers to comply with emissions reporting requirements. The intent of the CERCLA is to recover natural resources damages caused by hazardous substances and the EPCRA’s intent is for use of local and state emergency responders dealing with hazardous chemical releases.
These federal environmental laws were passed in the 1980’s. Until recently, these laws contained an exemption for livestock farmers, as this was a non-traditional area to monitor. Industry was the main concern at the time. Under these laws, when the amount of hazardous material over a set threshold is released into the environment, the National Response Center for the CERCLA and local governmental agencies for the EPCRA must be notified.
This previous exemption now applies to animal waste. During decomposition ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are emitted. Both substances are considered “extremely hazardous substances” under the statutes. The current limit for ammonia and hydrogen sulfide is set at 100 pounds per day. At the time, farms were exempt because federal response would be “impractical and unlikely.” Those not exempt were in a category called a “Confined Animal Feeding Operation” (CAFO), which houses more than 55,000 turkeys, 10,000 head of sheep, or 1,000 head of cattle. These large farms were never covered under the exemption, therefore have always complied with emissions reporting. Removing the exemption completely would affect all livestock farmers.
Opponents of the statute explain that the costs associated with monitoring and reporting emissions results were substantial and that the original stance from the exemption of an EPA response would be “impractical and unlikely” made the exemption legitimate for smaller farms. Only those that were a large CAFO operation would need to monitor emissions. The risk was not great enough for the hassle.
To support maintaining the exemption, a group of 28 senators are urging Scott Pruitt, the EPA Administrator, to consider a rehearing to stall this final rule and address how the ruling applies to smaller scale livestock farmers. In a letter to Pruitt, the lawmakers explained, “congress never imagined normal odors and emissions… of livestock, poultry, and egg production would somehow be captured under those laws.
Recently, environmental groups backed by Waterkeeper Alliance began filing suits to remove the exemption. In the end, the appellate court decided to overrule the exemption stating that emergency responders needed the information about the releases and that the environmental impacts of manure pits were too large to avoid. The final ruling of the court was that the enforcement of the acts was not at all “impractical or unlikely” and that the EPA could in fact respond to a farm case. The court also claimed that the benefits of removing the exemption outweighed the substantial costs to the farmer, which were not enough to support maintaining the exemption.
What Does This Mean for the Consumer?
On one hand, the Modernization of Pork Slaughter Rule will increase production for the pork industry. This generally means lower prices for the consumer. However, the environmental acts are creating an additional cost to the farmer. This may decrease production or increase the cost per head. Only time will tell how this will affect the price of the end product.