Tyson Foods announced on Tuesday that it plans to replace more than a dozen federal inspectors at a large Kansas beef plant, with its own company employees, after getting a U.S. government waiver.  The USDA waiver was granted in March 2020, allowing Tyson workers to check cattle carcasses for blood clots, bruises or signs of disease before the animals are butchers, company executives said.

Tyson Foods said on Tuesday it plans in January to replace more than a dozen federal inspectors with company employees, after getting a U.S. government waiver.  Tyson said the changes would improve food safety and efficiency, though some activists worried they could result in less oversight.  

Activists said the inspection changes were a move to deregulate the industry. The country’s largest meat suppler meat supplier asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in March 2019 for a waiver from inspection requirements at its plant in Holcomb, Kansas.  Other companies have made similar changes at chicken and pork plants.

The pandemic delayed the changes, but Tyson will now hire 15 people per shift to check carcasses, said the company, which worked with Iowa State University to develop training materials for workers.

The number of USDA inspectors at the plant will drop to nine per shift from 17, the agency said in a statement.  The number of highly trained government employees who do more complex work like monitoring animal welfare or meat testing will increase to seven per shift from two, according to USDA.

Tyson plans to implement new technology and to eventually begin to use cameras and computer imaging to evaluate the carcasses, said Jennifer Williams, vice president of food safety.

“This is a way to leverage new technology and use plant employees to implement these steps, that will free up some inspectors to focus on improving public health, animal welfare and food safety,” said James Roth, director of Iowa State’s Center for Food Security and Public Health.

Meat-packers have accelerated automation after COVID-19 infected thousands of slaughterhouse employees this spring. USDA inspectors were also infected.

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