The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, together with Public Citizen Litigation Group, filed a federal lawsuit to stop the USDA’s new swine slaughter modernization rule that eliminates line speed limits in pork slaughter plants, and ultimately gives inspection responsibility to the slaughter plants instead of USDA inspectors. As we have previously covered on this blog, in September, USDA published the final New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS), which established that hog slaughter plants may voluntarily join a new inspection system whereby establishment personnel would be responsible for sorting and removing unfit animals and identifying defects before FSIS inspection. FSIS online inspectors would be reduced to a maximum of three per line per shift. The rule also revokes maximum line speeds in processing plants.
UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, and represents 30,000 pork workers who handle 71% of all hogs slaughtered and processed in the US. The lawsuit alleges that the new NSIS rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act because it is not backed by reasoned decision-making. Additionally, the suit alleges that the rule will hurt pork workers across the country. According to the UFCW, even at current line speeds, swine slaughter and processing workers face risks that can lead to severe injury, illness, and death. Indeed, meatpacking workers are already injured at 2.4 times the rate of other industries.
The UFCW suit also alleges that the new rule will significantly impact food safety. For instance, the new rule includes no requirement or funding to train plant employees on inspection techniques that were previously performed by USDA inspectors. UFCW President Marc Perrone stated that “[t]his new rule would also dramatically weaken critical protections that Americans depend on to be able to select safe, healthy food to feed their families every day. The safety of America’s food and workers is not for sale and this lawsuit seeks to ensure this dangerous rule is set aside and these companies are held accountable.”