Lawsuit Challenging USDA Pork Inspection Policy to Continue
A California federal court has denied a motion to dismiss an advocacy group lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) challenging the implementation of the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s New Swine Inspection System (NSIS). Ctr. for Food Safety v. Perdue, No. 20-0256 (N.D. Cal., entered February 4, 2021). The plaintiffs, several advocacy groups including the Center for Food Safety and Food & Water Watch, argued that the rule change violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The court found that the plaintiffs could reasonably argue a “credible threat,” a standard in threatened environmental harm cases that “also applies to food safety cases such as this one.”
“Here, Plaintiffs allege that the new NSIS procedures outlined in the Final Rule erode several important features of the traditional inspection process increasing the likelihood that adulterated pork products will enter the food supply and thus putting their members at risk of illness from consuming adulterated pork. Plaintiffs allege that under the Final Rule, responsibilities for ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections will fall to plant employees who are not required to receive specific training or certification related to inspections. Additionally, the Final Rule allows for line speeds at plants to increase, which will decrease the amount of time each inspector can devote to examining a carcass for potential disease. According to Plaintiffs, the data provided by Defendants shows that the NSIS plants tagged twenty-five to thirty-percent fewer animals than plants using the traditional inspection process. Plaintiffs also point to provisions of the Final Rule that rescind current testing requirements for E. coli and salmonella. Moreover, because approximately forty plants producing roughly ninety-three percent of the domestic pork supply will adopt the new NSIS rules, Plaintiffs allege that their members, who desire to continue to consume pork, will be unable to avoid pork from NSIS plants given the number of plants likely to adopt the procedures and absence of consumer-facing labeling and disclosures regarding the location of the swine slaughter.  Defendants argue that this theory is too speculative because the number of plants adopting NSIS is not certain; however, by Defendants’ own estimate, NSIS plants will account for seventy-eight percent of the total pork slaughter nationwide, which is still a significant amount.”
Accordingly, the court held that NSIS could pose a credible threat and denied the agency’s motion to dismiss.