A federal court in Minnesota has ruled that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) when changing the rules on production line speeds in pork plants.
The judge in Minnesota said that FSIS acted unlawfully when it issued its New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) in October 2019, which eliminates limits on the speeds at which plants run their slaughter lines. The court said that the agency didn’t consider the increased risk of injury to plant workers.
The court rejected arguments from representatives of the meatpacking industry that increased line speeds do not put workers at increased risk of harm, citing enough evidence that proved a strong relationship between high speeds and musculoskeletal injuries, lacerations, and amputations.
Marc Perrone, United Food and Commercial Workers International’s president, tells Food Quality & Safety that this ruling was a victory for workers in pork plants across the U.S. “This finally ends the dangerous Trump USDA policy that allowed pork plants to push workers to the breaking point with unsafe line speeds that increase the risk of injury and put the safety of our food supply in jeopardy,” he says. “With the success of this lawsuit, our country’s essential workers have sent a powerful message that the safety of America’s food and workers is not for sale and that these companies will finally be forced to stop these dangerous practices.”
However, not everyone agreed with the ruling. The North American Meat Institute has long been an advocate for increasing line speeds and feels that enough research was done by FSIS to show to show that the practice isn’t harmful. “The Meat Institute is disappointed in the ruling, especially following the 20 years of study through the pilot, the HACCP-Based Inspection Model Project,” the group said in a statement. “We are still reading through the order and do not know of USDA’s next steps.”
It’s currently unclear what plants that converted to the NSIS will need to do to comply with the ruling, but more information should come in the next few months.