A federal judge in St. Paul is scheduled, on Jan. 27, to consider the government’s motion to dismiss a last-ditch attempt to stop the modernization of swine inspection procedures.
Unions led by the United Food and Commercial Workers sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture Oct. 7, 2019, over the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) Final Rule for Modernization of Swine Inspection. The UFCW and its local unions first sued over the issue about 25 years ago when FSIS began pilot programs for poultry and swine inspection reforms.
U.S. District Court Judge Joan N. Ericksen has scheduled Jan. 27 to hear the motion filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys representing USDA. Ericksen is a former Minnesota Supreme Court judge who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush.
Ericksen is on “senior status,” meaning she remains active, but with a reduced caseload,
The DOJ has presented the judge with a 43-page motion for dismissal of UFCW v. USDA. The government attorneys argue that the union plaintiffs lack standing to sue and fail to state a claim for which there can be any relief.
“In the mid-1990s, the agency began implementing a pilot program designed to realign its inspection resources to steer its food safety mission to focus more on combatting foodborne pathogens not visible on carcasses, and to place additional onus on swine (as well as poultry) slaughter establishments to ensure that federal meat inspectors are presented with healthier animals for antemortem inspection and carcasses with fewer visible defects for inspection on evisceration lines,” the dismissal document says.
Attorneys for the unions are not going to be unprepared for the dismissal hearings. They’ve filed a 53-page response opposing dismissal around their two main issues: line speeds and inspector numbers
The New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) became optional for market hog establishments in October 2019, and a pilot program, known as HIMP, spanned more than two decades.
It was 24 years ago that “FSIS launched an initiative designed to target its resources to address the public health risks associated with foodborne pathogens not detectable through traditional organoleptic inspection.”
“The agency first published (in 1996) a final rule requiring establishments to develop a system of preventive controls designed to ensure their products are safe, known as a hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) system,” the dismissal motion states.
It says the HACCP initiative marked a paradigm shift in FSIS’s approach to fulfilling its statutory responsibilities, placing greater onus on establishments to ensure product safety while allowing them the flexibility to determine the optimal way to comply with FSIS’s food safety program.
“The HIMP pilot was created to, among other things, correct the ‘major problem’ that “slaughter establishments have come to rely upon FSIS personnel to sort acceptable from unacceptable product” and “have no mandate or incentive to remove carcasses and parts before presentation for inspection,” it continues. “The HIMP pilot was created to, among other things, correct the “major problem” that “slaughter establishments have come to rely upon FSIS personnel to sort acceptable from unacceptable product” and “have no mandate or incentive to remove carcasses and parts prior to presentation for inspection.”
DOJ also points out that:
- FSIS observed that the traditional inspection system thus resulted in “FSIS’ [s] resources [being used] inappropriately and inefficiently [to] . . . take on the industry’s responsibility for finding defects, identifying corrective actions, and solving production control problems.”
- Moreover, as a result of this inefficient allocation of resources, the traditional inspection system did “not permit FSIS to allocate resources according to public health risk.”
- The traditional system was designed when animal diseases detectable by the organoleptic inspection were more prevalent. Significant advances in disease control and the slaughtering of livestock at younger ages have since changed that.
- Accordingly, the HIMP pilot systems were tested with the goal of improving food safety and inspection effectiveness, reducing the risk of foodborne illness, promoting industry innovation, and more efficiently utilizing FSIS resources.
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