The USDA by April 15 will ask a federal court in California to dismiss a second lawsuit filed to overturn the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS’s) new inspection system for market hogs. USDA earlier asked a federal court in Minnesota to toss a similar civil action.
In Minnesota, a judge stripped down a lawsuit brought by labor unions against USDA to just the line speed issue. Activist groups suing USDA in California were permitted to beef up their complaint on April 6 with some additional allegations and at the same time, the court scheduled oral arguments for June 12 on USDA’s motion to dismiss the action.
USDA’s deadline for filing its written motion to dismiss is April 15. Plaintiffs led by the Center For Food Safety(CFS) will then have until May 13 to file written opposition, and USDA’s written reply to that is due on May 27.
CFS’s amended complaint introduces new information from Food and Water Watch (F&WW), a co-Plaintiff, that claims the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) curtails FSIS inspection of carcasses showing signs of diseases that can move from animals to people, such as coronaviruses.
A coronavirus outbreak fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is that there is no scientific evidence indicating that any animals in the United States, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.
Nevertheless, the amended complaint against USDA claims that agency veterinarians were able to evaluate 3.5 times fewer potentially diseased animals and carcasses in NSIS-ruled slaughter operations.
“The newly released data contradicts USDA assurances that long-standing inspection requirements would be unaffected by the new NSIS rules, which allow slaughter plant workers to first determine which animals are fit for slaughter, which carcasses are fit for commerce, and set their own line speeds,” CFS said in a written statement issued as the amended complaint was filed.
Ryan Talbott, CFS staff attorney, depicts the NSIS as having potentially “disastrous consequences” due to”deregulating public health standards.”
“USDA’s decision to walk away from its obligation to protect the public is shameful and will almost certainly result in more people getting sick and dying,” Talbott said in the CFS statement.
Zach Corrigan, F&WW’s senior staff attorney, said USDA “should shut down” NSIS immediately.
In the amended complaint, the Plaintiffs make five claims for relief. All five appear to address how USDA assigns and supervises inspectors. Those were the kinds of claims that federal Judge Joan N. Ericksen dismissed in Minnesota.
USDA enacted the final NSIS rule on Sept. 17, 2019, marking the first time in five decades that FSIS offered a new inspection option to market hog establishments. When it was enacted, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the goal was to protect public health while allowing for food safety innovations.
“This regulatory change allows us to ensure food safety while eliminating outdated rules and allowing for companies to innovate,” Perdue said. “The final rule is the culmination of a science-based and data-driven rulemaking process which builds on the food safety improvements made in 1997 when USDA introduced a system of preventive controls for industry. With this rule, FSIS will finally begin full implementation of that program in swine establishments.”
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)