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story.lead_photo.caption The exterior of Tyson Foods Inc. headquarters in Springdale. - Photo by Anthony Reyes

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to pay Tyson Foods a $1 million settlement after the Springdale meat processor claimed a federal employee falsified inspection records at a pork plant, resulting in thousands of wasted hog carcasses.

Tyson and its "Fresh Meats" business sued the USDA in May, claiming the company had incurred $2.4 million in losses and fees from the incident.

"This was an unfortunate situation and we appreciate the USDA for working with us to address our losses," Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said in an email Wednesday. "We take our commitment to food safety very seriously and look forward to continued partnership with the USDA."

The two parties began settlement talks a few months ago. Tyson filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of the case on Oct. 28 and it was terminated the next day.

Financial details of the settlement were not disclosed in court filings, but Sparkman said a reported $1 million total is "accurate."

The incident in question took place a year ago when Yolanda Thompson, a federal meat inspector at a Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Storm Lake, Iowa, filled out inspection cards -- while in her car -- without first examining the hogs for human consumption, according to the lawsuit. Tyson became aware of this the next day, March 27, 2018, after the 4,622 hogs in question were mixed into a larger group, totaling 8,000 carcasses, and the suspect swine couldn't be identified.

"This left Tyson with no choice but to destroy the negligently inspected carcasses and those with which they had been commingled," Tyson said in the 11-page complaint, resulting in a net loss of $1.85 million of pork.

Considering canceled sales, freight and storage fees, overtime hours and a reduction in normal processing duties, Tyson said the USDA's negligence resulted in $2.48 million in damages.

The destroyed hogs were only a fraction of the meatpacker's weekly processing capacity. According to Tyson's latest annual report, its pork processing plants slaughtered an average of 458,000 hogs a week in 2018.

The claims against the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service come at a time when industry groups and politicians are advocating for fewer inspectors in meatpacking plants as a cost-cutting measure, arguing that company employees are qualified to do some of the work. Despite thousands of public comments against this type of policy change, the USDA announced in September a final rule to modernize swine slaughter inspection that did that very thing.

A USDA spokesman declined comment on the settlement with Tyson.

Business on 11/07/2019

Print Headline: USDA to pay $1M to settle Tyson suit

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