USDA wins New Swine Inspection System lawsuit

04-01 | |
USDA swine
Foto: Henk Riswick

The US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) won a lawsuit brought by several animal rights and environmental organisations. This means the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) will be upheld. However, testing of the system continues.

NSIS was established in late 2019 as a voluntary system that allows slaughter plant employees to be involved in pre- and post-slaughter sorting activities before federal inspection occurs. The system also affects processing line speeds.

Slaughter at unlimited speeds

7 groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Mercy for Animals challenged the final “rule” in the system. The groups alleged that under this initiative, he slaughter of most pigs in the country would take place at unlimited speeds “with very little federal oversight, posing serious risks to animal welfare, consumer health and safety, and the environment.”

However, the judge in the challenge case found that NSIS aligns with existing legislation, and that FSIS had previously addressed animal welfare concerns by responding to comments, providing reasonable explanations for decisions and addressing concerns related to training and humane handling.

Line speed at issue

When it was established in 2019, NSIS allowed slaughter plants to set line speeds based on each plant’s ability to maintain process control. About 2 years later, a court order in Minnesota put line speed limits in place, of 1,106 head per hour.

FSIS responded by inviting select plants to participate in trials where they could operate at an increased line speed, with independent analysis of the impact of these increased speeds on workers. These plants, located in various states, included Clemens Food Group, Quality Pork Processors and Tyson Fresh Meats.

However, the data were found to be insufficient to properly determine worker impact, and FSIS is commissioning a study that will independently generate “the necessary data for expert analysis.”

NPPC support

In late November, FSIS announced that trials at its chosen NSIS establishments will move forward for up to an additional 90 days while the study to collect data is being designed.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) applauded this decision, saying: “Amidst a historically dire pork market, we thank agriculture secretary Vilsack for his actions to preserve harvest capacity, which provides market power to producers when selling hogs,” said NPPC president Scott Hays. “Without the extension, pork producers would incur additional losses of nearly $ 10/head in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2024.”

“NPPC looks forward to continuing working with FSIS to make this programme permanent and increase NSIS adoption at additional packing plants.”

Treena Hein Correspondent
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