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New lawsuit filed against USDA swine slaughter inspection ruleNew lawsuit filed against USDA swine slaughter inspection rule

Latest challenge looks at potential harm posed to consumers.

Jacqui Fatka

January 14, 2020

3 Min Read
New lawsuit filed against USDA swine slaughter inspection rule

Food & Water Watch (FWW), the Center for Food Safety and two supporting members filed an action Jan. 13 against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for issuing New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) rules that they say “undermine pork safety inspection in slaughter plants.”

This is the fourth action challenging the NSIS rules. FWW has filed a separate lawsuit against the agency for violating the Freedom of Information Act and concealing information related to the rules. The newest complaint is the first to challenge the rules because of the harm posed to consumers.

The 69-page complaint details how the groups feel USDA's Food Safety & Inspection System (FSIS) has delegated critical inspection activities to the slaughter companies themselves and how this will allegedly harm public health. Two other groups have challenged the rules because of the alleged harm posed to plant employees and to the animals because they will result in inhumane treatment. 

In releasing the rule, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “The final rule is the culmination of a science-based and data-driven rule-making process [that] builds on the food safety improvements made in 1997, when USDA introduced a system of preventive controls for industry. With this rule, FSIS will finally begin full implementation of that program in swine establishments.”

Related:Pork slaughter rule lawsuit filed

In September, USDA finalized the swine inspection rule with new requirements for microbial testing that apply to all swine slaughterhouses to demonstrate that they are controlling for pathogens throughout the slaughter system. Additionally, FSIS amended its meat inspection regulations to establish a new inspection system for market hog establishments called NSIS.

The final rule allows market hog establishments to choose if they will operate under NSIS or continue to operate under traditional inspection. The rule allows FSIS inspectors to remain on the slaughter inspection line with the ability to affect line speeds and to determine which products enter commerce because they are inspecting 100% of animals and 100% of carcasses. Under NSIS, offline FSIS inspectors will conduct more food safety and humane handling verification tasks to protect the food supply and animal welfare.

The lawsuit claims that the NSIS rules cannot stand and must be permanently stopped. “USDA is acting beyond its authority in essentially leaving inspection up to slaughter companies. These new rules are contrary to the Federal Meat Inspection Act,” FWW said in a statement.

“There is no gray area here. The new rules curtail the ability of federal inspectors to detect serious food safety problems and expose those who consume such pork products to serious health threats like salmonella,” FWW senior staff attorney Zach Corrigan said. “It’s easy to read between the lines with these new rules: The USDA is letting the wolf guard the hog house. Food safety is one of the most important protections in our country, and gifting the slaughter industry self-regulation powers will mean pork eaters in this country will be facing higher threats of disease.”

“Reducing the number of trained federal inspectors and increasing line speeds is a recipe for disaster,” Ryan Talbott, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said. “USDA has an obligation to protect the health and welfare of consumers. USDA cannot do that when it takes a back seat and lets the slaughter plants largely regulate themselves.”

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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