USDA extends modified time-limited trial to include a swine study

Study team will deliver a report to FSIS, which will guide next steps regarding line speeds in swine establishments.

Ann Hess, Content Director

February 28, 2024

3 Min Read
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Following a 90-day extension of USDA’s New Swine Slaughter Inspection System time-limited trial, the Food Safety and Inspection Service has announced a modified TLT to include a swine study. The study will include on-site visits, interviews with workers, and measurements and observations of plant operations at 1,106 head per hour and at higher line speed. Letters were sent to the six swine establishments, notifying them that contractors will work with them to accommodate plant operations and schedules.

FSIS says the six establishments must continue to meet the original criteria for the TLT and participate in all aspects of the study to remain eligible for a modified TLT. Worker safety agreements with each establishment’s union or worker representative will also continue to be part of the TLT.

In March 2021, a court order issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota vacated the part of the USDA final rule eliminating line speed limits for NSIS establishments. As a result, all NSIS establishments were required to operate at line speeds not exceeding 1,106 hph.

FSIS, in consultation with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration then developed a time-limited trial that enabled NSIS establishments to experiment with ergonomics, automation and crewing to create custom work environments that will protect food and worker safety while maintaining productivity.

In November 2021, NSIS establishments were invited to apply to participate in a trial, and six establishments were approved to run time-limited trials:

  • Clemens Food Group, LLC, Hatfield, Pennsylvania

  • Quality Pork Processors, Austin, Minnesota

  • Wholestone Farms Cooperative, Inc., Fremont, Nebraska

  • Clemens Food Group, LLC, Coldwater, Michigan

  • Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., Madison, Nebraska

  • Swift Pork Company, Beardstown, Illinois

During the TLT, FSIS contracted with a third-party team of worker safety experts to evaluate the data submitted by the swine establishments. Last fall, they determined that the data was not sufficient to evaluate the impact of increased line speeds on worker safety and FSIS granted a 90-day extension of the TLT. USDA and the contractors then held several meetings with the participating establishments and other relevant stakeholders to develop a study plan.

The modified TLT will continue through January 15, 2025. The study team will deliver a report to FSIS, which the agency will use to guide next steps regarding line speeds in swine establishments, which could include a decision to pursue rulemaking.

The National Pork Producers Council commended the FSIS for again extending the New Swine Inspection System line speed trials. “We appreciate USDA and FSIS for listening to the pork industry and taking another step toward making permanent these increased line speeds, which totals more than 3% of national harvest capacity,” said NPPC President and Missouri pork producer Scott Hays. “These actions give pork producers more certainty in an uncertain time.”

In December, a federal judge upheld the New Swine Inspection System, citing the adoption of NSIS was “not arbitrary and capricious” because the agency has adequately detailed reasons for plants moving from the traditional system and why this new policy is beneficial for the industry. Animal rights and environmental organizations had also contended that the NSIS violates the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires government inspectors examine all animals before slaughter, for both animal welfare and food safety purposes, and that FSIS was now handing over oversight authority to establishment employees.

In her ruling, Judge Elizabeth Wolford of the Western District of New York noted, “To the extent Plaintiffs argue that Defendants have failed to justify the change from the traditional inspection system to the NSIS, any such contention is not even remotely supported by the record, which is voluminous and more than sufficiently articulates the basis for the change to the NSIS, including to improve the effectiveness of swine slaughter inspection and make better use of USDA and FSIS resources.”

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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