October 28, 2020
Tyson Foods workers will replace federal inspectors at its Kansas beef plant
Tyson Foods said it has been granted a US government waiver to replace more than a dozen federal inspectors at its Kansas beef plant with its own employees, Reuters reported.
The company said the move will boost food safety and efficiency as part of its inspection modernisation process, but activists said the replacing federal inspectors could mean less oversight.
Tyson Foods had requested the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in March last year for a inspection requirements waiver at its Holcomb, Kansas plant. Other companies have made similar requests for their chicken and swine plants.
The waiver was granted by the USDA in March this year, allowing Tyson Foods' workers to inspect cattle carcasses for defects or disease before the livestock are slaughtered, rather than government inspectors.
The USDA told Reuters that it will continue to inspect all carcasses and parts, but will pass on tasks involving quality assurance and trimming to Tyson Foods.
15 workers per shift will be hired to inspect the carcasses, said Tyson Foods, which has worked with Iowa State University to create training materials for their workers.
The USDA said while there will be fewer USDA inspectors, there will be additional highly trained inspectors who do more complex work, such as animal welfare monitoring and testing of meat.
Jennifer Williams, Tyson Foods vice president of food safety, said the company will shift to cameras and computer imaging to evaluate carcasses in the future.
James Roth, director of Iowa's centre for food security and public health, said this will free up some inspectors, turning their attention towards boosting public health, animal welfare and food safety.
Automation has been more welcomed by meatpackers after COVID-19 infected thousands of workers and caused temporary plant closures. USDA inspectors were also infected.
However, activists said the changes to meat inspection is a move towards deregulation. Zach Corrigan, a senior staff attorney for Food & Water Watch, said the move is problematic.