Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has dismissed a lawsuit Food & Water Watch Inc. and two of its members filed last fall against U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to challenge the agency’s New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS). The language the judge used in her ruling issued Monday was not the sort intended to soothe the losing side’s feelings. Jackson stated that the consumer rights group based its opposition to the new rule “on anecdotes and speculation” and advanced a “myopic view” of data USDA generated about an experimental program that preceded the new NPIS. Further, she called it “sheer speculation that bad things might happen” for FWW to assert that the new NPIS will increase the incidence of adulterated and unwholesome poultry entering the marketplace and not, as USDA claims, reduce it. The judge stated in her ruling, “Notably, under the traditional poultry inspection systems, online federal inspectors conduct ‘organoleptic’ inspections of poultry carcasses and viscera, meaning that inspectors use sight, touch, and smell to examine the poultry carcasses … and this inspection technique is employed primarily for the purpose of determining whether or not the processed poultry carcasses are ‘adulterated.’” The 58-page decision is the latest chapter in the nearly two-decade move by USDA to reform poultry inspection practices that had gone largely unchanged from 1957 until Vilsack proposed the new rule in 2012. Under the new system, the poultry processing company is responsible for sorting carcasses that are then presented for federal inspection on the line. Jackson stated that, by relieving federal inspectors of the task of sorting a poultry company’s carcasses, the new USDA rule is “freeing up Agency resources to conduct offline inspection activities that are more important for food safety, such as verifying compliance with sanitation and (other) requirements, or conducting Food Safety Assessments.” Jackson noted that USDA’s justification for moving away from traditional inspection is that those procedures stem from a time “when visually detectable animal disease were more prevalent and considered to be more of a concern than they are today.” “Stated simply,” the judge wrote, “since at least the 1990s, the USDA has been concerned that the traditional poultry inspection systems ‘obscure the proper roles of industry and inspection personnel’ and ‘require FSIS to allocate significant inspection personnel resources toward inspection activities to detect defects and conditions that present minimal food safety risks, thus limiting the resources available for more important food safety-related inspection activities.’” The ruling also contains a history lesson, especially from a legal standpoint, of FSIS’s attempts to bring about change “for the better part of two decades.” It included the 1996 Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points rule that required preventive controls but did not change the traditional poultry inspection system from 1957. That was followed by the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) that allowed “a few volunteer” slaughter establishments to move to inspections based more on oversight and verifications. Jackson’s ruling also includes a recap of the objections that ensued, most notability by the American Federal of Government Employees, whose members include USDA’s unionized meat inspectors who feared a net loss of jobs in poultry plants. HIMP survived the legal challenge, but it greatly slowed USDA’s moves toward more widespread changes. FWW sued after Vilsack made the rule final last summer, charging that the new NPIS is “an unprecedented elimination of inspection resources for a secret set of young chicken and turkey slaughterhouses” that will “allow such establishments to dramatically increase their slaughter line speeds, while threatening public health and introducing unwholesome poultry into interstate commerce.” However, Jackson found that neither FWW nor its two members named as plaintiffs have any legal standing to continue the lawsuit against the Secretary of Agriculture. Her ruling stated that the allegations “do not establish the necessary concrete and actual or imminent injury … .” A plaintiff must demonstrate that they will suffer “irreparable harm,” and F&WW does not meet that standard, she stated. Instead, the group has what the judge called “broad disquiets that can be resolved only by an appeal to politics and policy.” In denying the group’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the judge also stated that FWW failed to show that the new NPIS increases the risk of adulterated poultry reaching interstate commerce. Nor was she moved by affidavits from current and former inspectors that F&WW used to make its arguments. “Plaintiffs must do more,” Jackson’s ruling stated, “than offer anecdotes and ‘common sense’ to carry their burden of establishing a substantial increased risk of harm … Plaintiffs have failed to point to any scientific evidence demonstrating that the NPIS rules are even incrementally more likely to produce adulterated poultry products … .”