MINNEAPOLIS – A US District Court in Minnesota will hear a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a labor union seeking to stop implementation of the US Dept. of Agriculture’s New Swine Inspection System (NSIS).

In October of 2019, Public Citizen filed the lawsuit on behalf of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The lawsuit alleges that the NSIS jeopardizes the safety of workers and consumers by eliminating maximum line speeds and reducing the number of federal inspectors on processing lines by 40 percent.

“As thousands of commenters told USDA during the rulemaking process, the Rule will jeopardize the lives and safety of both consumers of pork products and workers like Plaintiffs’ members,” the complaint states. “Experts told USDA during the rulemaking that ‘there is no doubt that increasing line speed will increase laceration injuries to workers,’ and the elimination of a maximum line speed will ‘potentially cause an epidemic of disabling work-related [musculoskeletal] disorders.’”

At a hearing scheduled for Jan. 27, USDA will argue that the alleged injuries “…are not fairly traceable…” to the NSIS, and that USDA lacks the statutory mandate to regulate worker safety under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, USDA said “…Plaintiffs have not alleged injury to any specific member, nor can they show that any alleged future injury resulting from the rule is imminent, given that no establishment that employs their members has adopted — or has concrete plans to adopt — NSIS. Neither can they demonstrate that any such injury would result from the Government’s actions, rather than the independent choices of those establishments that will ultimately determine whether and in what manner to opt into NSIS.”

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has said the NSIS will improve the effectiveness of hog slaughter. Under the final rule:

  • FSIS will shift agency resources to allow up to two offline verification inspectors per line per shift while reducing the number of online inspectors to a maximum of three per line per shift.
  • Plant personnel will be required to sort and remove unfit animals before ante-mortem inspection by FSIS inspectors and to trim and identify defects on carcasses before post-mortem inspection.
  • Plant personnel also must identify with a unique tag, tattoo, or similar device any animals or carcasses that they have sorted and removed for disposal before FSIS inspection and processors must develop, implement, and maintain written procedures in their HACCP system to ensure that animals and carcasses sorted and removed for disposal do not enter the human food supply and are properly disposed of according to federal regulations.
  • Processors must maintain records that document the total number of animals and carcasses sorted and removed per day and the reasons for their removal.
  • Plant personnel must notify FSIS inspectors if they identify an animal or carcass they suspect has a reportable or foreign animal disease such as African Swine Fever, classical swine fever or Nipah virus.
  • Processors must maintain records that show their products meet the new definition of ready-to-cook pork.
  • Processors are authorized to determine their own line speeds based on their ability to maintain process control for preventing fecal contamination and meet microbial performance measures for carcasses during the slaughter operation. However, FSIS retains the ability to slow or stop the line.

USDA filed its motion to dismiss the lawsuit in December. Meanwhile, there are multiple legal challenges to the NSIS working through the courts. The most recent action was filed by Food & Water Watch (FWW) and Center for Food Safety (CFS). The groups allege that the NSIS is a threat to food safety and public health.