Lawmakers scrutinize USDA’s hog slaughter rule

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The Obama administration is coming under scrutiny on Capitol Hill over the allegedly inhumane treatment of pigs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) hog slaughter pilot program has lead to the cruel treatment of pigs and raises concerns about increased rates of foodborne illnesses, critics say.

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) is looking to block the USDA from expanding the program. In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas J. VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE, they urge the agency to delay a proposed hog inspection rule.

“We must improve hog inspection and reduce contamination from pathogens associated with pork such as Salmonella and Campylobacter,” the 60 lawmakers wrote.

“While we strongly support modernizing our food safety system and making it more efficient, modernization should not occur at the expense of public health, worker safety, or animal welfare,” they added. "We are concerned that these new rules are being pushed by the industry to increase profits at the expense of public health.”

The USDA’s hog inspection rule purports to replace government inspectors with a rapid processing system, but the lawmakers are concerned it will “undermine food safety, worker safety, and animal welfare." 

The farm employees who would oversee the process could feel pressured to take “shortcuts” that “increase fecal and other adulteration of meat products,” “microbial contamination, and ultimately [lead to] a rise in foodborne illness,” the lawmakers wrote.