Federal Court Removes Swine Slaughter Line Speed Provision
A federal court has removed a provision of the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) that enabled pork processors to establish maximum line speeds. The lawsuit, brought against the USDA by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and three of its local chapters, challenged the 2019 rule change, arguing that faster slaughter speeds undermined worker safety.
On March 31, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota ruled that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) when the agency failed to consider whether increasing line speeds would harm workers.
President Joe Biden's administration, which pledges to prioritize worker safety, quickly withdrew a Trump administration proposal to allow all poultry plants to operate faster-than-established line speed limits, Reuters reports. But reversing the pork rule was expected to be more challenging, because it was already in effect.
A USDA spokesperson told Reuters the agency is reviewing the court decision "closely in light of the authorities, mission and mandate of the Food Safety and Inspection Service."
Additionally, the court placed a 90-day stay on its order to allow USDA time to develop a plan with respect to those plants that have converted to NSIS.
The North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) said, ““The Meat Institute is disappointed in the ruling, especially following the 20 years of study through the pilot, the HACCP-Based Inspection Model Project (HIMP). The Meat Institute offered compelling evidence about the safety of workers in HIMP/NSIS in our amicus brief. For these reasons, we would like to see the agency appeal and ask for a stay.”
United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) and Public Citizen, both opponents of NSIS, claimed this decision as a victory for worker safety.
“America’s essential workers in pork plants across the country have put their health and safety at risk every day during this pandemic to help families put food on the table,” said Marc Perrone, UFCW International president, in a release. “Today’s ruling is a victory for all of these brave men and women, finally ending the dangerous Trump USDA policy that allowed pork plants to push workers to the breaking point with unsafe line speeds that increase the risk of injury and put the safety of our food supply in jeopardy.”
The pork industry applauded the USDA in September 2019 for introducing the new inspection system after many years of research and evaluation. It received the endorsement of the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, highlighting the strong science-based approach used in designing the program.
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