SAN FRANCISCO — In a recent hearing of a lawsuit challenging the authority of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) New Swine Inspection Service (NSIS), US District Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California ruled in support of the new rule. NSIS permits plant employees to pre-sort animals before slaughter.

The plaintiffs, made up of consumer groups Food & Water Watch (FWW), Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Humane Farming Association (HFA), argued that the rule undermines the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) by replacing federal inspection with employee sorting.

FMIA grants USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service the authority to ensure the safety of meat products. However, Judge White agreed with the defendants’ assertion that “the pre-inspection sorting conducted by plant employees does not replace federal inspection; rather, it provides an additional step in the process before federal inspection occurs.”

“Under NSIS, federal inspectors still inspect each animal before it is slaughtered for meat,” White wrote in the court documents.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) expressed its support of the ruling.

“We are pleased that the federal judge upheld the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) that incentivizes investment in new technologies while ensuring a safe supply of wholesome American pork,” NPPC said. “Pork producers use science-based approaches to continuously improve and modernize their practices to ensure product quality and consistency and their workforce’s health and safety.”

Other groups criticized the court’s decision:

“Because the Court failed to condemn these Trump-era reductions in safety measures for hog slaughter, we can only hope we don’t see more foodborne illness or even further pandemics that should be protected by our federal meat processing law,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with CFS. “We are exploring all options and will keep fighting the corporate-controlled meat industry to protect public safety and a healthy food supply.”

HFA National Director Bradley Miller added, “This ruling is deeply disturbing. USDA should not be relying on the industry’s own employees to conduct federal meat inspection. Food safety and humane slaughter laws should be vigorously enforced by federal inspectors for the sake of both animal welfare and public health.”