The USDA’s finalized new swine inspection system is being challenged in court as the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, together with Public Citizen and UFCW Locals 663, 440 and 2 filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota seeking to stop the new system.
USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service finalized the new rule on Sept. 17, at which time the National Pork Producers Council spoke in favor of the move. The new swine slaughter modernization rule eliminates the line speed limits in pork slaughter plants and turns inspection of our food over to the companies that produce it.
“We applaud the USDA for introducing a new inspection system that incentivizes investment in new technologies while ensuring a safe supply of wholesome American pork,” NPPC President David Herring, a producer from Lillington, N.C., said in a Sept. 17 statement. “The U.S. pork production system is the envy of the world because we continuously adopt new practices and technologies, while enhancing safety, quality and consistency. This new inspection system codifies the advancements we have made into law, reflecting a 21st century industry.”
The New Swine Inspection System, which has been piloted at five pork processing plants, was developed over many years of research and evaluation and recently received the endorsement of the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, highlighting the strong science-based approach used in designing the program, according to the NPPC.
“The U.S. industry has long been a global leader in offering the highest quality, safest and most affordable pork to consumers here at home and abroad. We are proud of our record and welcome this program to further modernize our production process,” Herring added in that September statement.
UFCW International President Marc Perrone feels differently about the new rule.
“Thousands of our members work hard every day in America’s pork plants to help families across the country put food on the table. Increasing pork plant line speeds is not only a reckless giveaway to giant corporations, it will put thousands of workers in harm’s way,” Perrone says in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “This new rule would also dramatically weaken critical protections that Americans depend on to be able to select safe, healthy food to feed their families every day. The safety of America’s food and workers is not for sale and this lawsuit seeks to ensure this dangerous rule is set aside and these companies are held accountable.”
“Shockingly, USDA admitted in its rule that it simply ignored the mounds of evidence that showed its actions will harm workers, while bending over backwards to help businesses. That violates basic principles of administrative law,” says Adam Pulver, an attorney with Public Citizen, which represents UFCW and the three locals in the case.
The lawsuit alleges that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is not backed by reasoned decision-making.
“We urged the USDA to consider how unsafe this rule would make our workplaces, but they refused,” says UFCW Local 663 President Matt Utecht in Minnesota. “We had no choice but to go to court to stop a rule that will endanger the health and livelihoods of thousands of UFCW members.”
“We have a lot of pride in the products our members produce,” says UFCW Local 440 President Leo Kanne in Iowa. “This rule will erode the quality and safety of the food we make and feed to our own families.”
The UFCW represents about 250,000 workers in the meatpacking and food processing industries and 30,000 workers in pork plants. UFCW members handle 71 percent of all hogs slaughtered and processed in the United States.
In May 2018, more than 6,500 UFCW members who work in pork plants submitted comments to the USDA in opposition to the proposed rule that would increase the line speeds where they work, threatening both them and the consumers they serve.
All the UFCW locals who are parties in the lawsuit represent pork slaughter workers.