WASHINGTON — The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) responded to a federal district court ruling regarding US pork processing plants’ line speeds.

The agency said that establishments operating under New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) should prepare to set a maximum line speed of 1,106 head per hour on June 30, 2021. During March, a federal court vacated a provision of the NSIS that enabled pork processors to establish maximum line speeds during the Trump administration.

“The agency is committed to worker safety and ensuring a safe, reliable food supply,” FSIS said in a statement. “We will work with the establishments to comply with the court’s ruling and minimize disruptions to the supply chain.”

In March, the US District Court for the District of Minnesota ruled that FSIS violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) when the agency failed to consider whether increasing line speeds would harm workers. The order by the court was placed on hold for 90 days until the USDA developed a plan for plants that converted to NSIS. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW), who were involved with the federal lawsuit, expressed their approval for the FSIS decision.

“As the union for our nation’s frontline pork plant workers, UFCW applauds the USDA’s decision to respect the district court’s ruling,” said Marc Perrone, president of UFCW International. “The court recognized that the USDA must consider worker safety, and it is well known that dangerous production speeds increase the risks of injury to workers. UFCW is calling on CEOs across the pork industry to work with the USDA to slow their line speeds. The safety of America’s frontline food workers must never again take a backseat to corporate profits.”

Earlier in the week, pork industry advocates, including the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), asked the USDA to reconsider the ruling as it would impact smaller hog producers. The trade association also wanted a stay while the appeal was considered.

NPPC said the ruling to strike down a provision in the NSIS reverses a 2019 decision to approve and implement faster line speeds. The group also added that the pilot program dates back to the Clinton administration and has continued throughout subsequent administrations in an effort to update the inspection system that had not been updated in more than 50 years.

“The US pork production system, the most advanced in the world, is characterized by robust competition, innovation and efficiency,” said Jen Sorenson, president of the NPPC. “With the stroke of a judge’s pen, the lives of many hog farmers will be upended if this misguided ruling takes effect.”