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The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) inspector general will reportedly review how the agency handled inspections during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Washington Post. The probe will review how the Food Safety and Inspection Service spent $33 million in extra funding provided by Congress in March 2020, including what precautions were taken to protect the health of inspectors. The probe comes amid elevated scrutiny on how meatpacking plants have handled the pandemic, including lawsuits targeting meat companies. A Nebraska court dismissed a lawsuit brought by former employees of a Noah's Ark Processors plant alleging the company failed to implement proper precautions to stop the spread of the virus, holding that the employees lacked standing because they no longer work at the plant. Alma v. Noah's Ark Processors LLC, No. 20-3141 (D. Neb., entered March 1, 2021).

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…

A coalition of advocacy groups has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asserting that Smithfield Foods misleadingly markets its pork products as "produced in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way" despite the company's production methods allegedly falling "far below the level of environmental sustainability that a reasonable consumer would expect based on the company’s representations." The complaint further argues that "Smithfield touts its use of anaerobic digesters to produce methane from its pollution-laden waste as a sustainable innovation and solution to Smithfield’s climate damaging production practices—a falsehood that capitalizes on an issue of growing importance to consumers." The petitioners include Food & Water Watch, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and organizations from Iowa, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

President Biden has withdrawn an executive order that would have allowed 25% faster processing speeds on poultry lines in meatpacking plants. The policy change would have allowed plants to process 175 slaughtered birds per minute, up from 140, in accordance with a proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Criticism of the proposal came from advocacy groups that argued the faster speeds with endanger workers, especially after a study purportedly showed that plants with waivers allowing the faster speeds had higher COVID-19 transmission rates.

A D.C. Superior Court has denied Smithfield Foods' motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging it misleads consumers by marketing its products as "safer pork." Organic Consumers Assn. v. Smithfield Foods Inc., No. 2020 CA 2566 B (D.C. Super. Ct., entered December 14, 2020). The lawsuit, filed by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), alleged that Smithfield "employs production practices that result in less-safe conditions, effects, and Products, including the routine preventative use of medically important antibiotics, crowded conditions, the use of potentially carcinogenic drugs, and rapid slaughter methods." The court disagreed with Smithfield's argument that the marketing statements were puffery or "too general to be actionable," finding that the statements Smithfield made about its safety were specific. Further, OCA's "allegations about consumer understanding are plausible," the court held, because the complaint cited sources "stating that food safety is an issue of significant concern to consumers" and studies showing "that a 'reasonable consumer'…

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the approval of GalSafe pigs, which have a "first-of-its-kind intentional genomic alteration (IGA)," for use in food. "This is the first IGA in an animal that the FDA has approved for both human food consumption and as a source for potential therapeutic uses," the announcement states. "The IGA in GalSafe pigs is intended to eliminate alpha-gal sugar on the surface of the pigs’ cells. People with Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) may have mild to severe allergic reactions to alpha-gal sugar found in red meat (e.g., beef, pork, and lamb)." FDA reportedly found that "food from Galsafe pigs is safe for the general population to eat" and that the potential impact of the pigs is no greater than from conventional pigs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has partially granted a petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) about the use of "No Nitrate or Nitrite Added" and "Uncured" on labels for "products that have been processed using any source of nitrates or nitrites." FSIS indicated in its response letter to CSPI that it will issue a rulemaking proposing the regulation of such phrases but noted, "However, rather than requiring disclosure statements about the use of nitrate or nitrites on labels of meat and poultry products, as requested in the petition, FSIS intends to propose to amend and clarify its meat and poultry labeling regulations to establish new definitions for 'Cured' and 'Uncured.' The basis for these proposed changes would be discussed in detail in the proposed rule, which is listed in the Fall 2020 Semiannual Regulatory Agenda, with a tentative…

A plaintiff has filed a putative class action alleging Diestel Turkey Ranch falsely markets its turkeys as "thoughtfully raised on sustainable family farms with plenty of fresh air and space to roam." Wetzel v. Diestel Turkey Ranch, No. 20-1213 (D.N.M., filed November 19, 2020). The plaintiff argues that Diestel "sources the overwhelming majority of its turkeys from growers outside of Sonora, California, at typical factory farms [], where turkeys are raised in large, overcrowded metal sheds that lack sufficient space to engage in natural behaviors and are often mired in manure and slaughterhouse waste—i.e., not ranches or ranch-like conditions depicted at the Sonora Ranch." The plaintiff alleges violations of New Mexico's false advertising law. Cargill Inc. faces similar allegations in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission by several advocacy groups. "Cargill makes numerous representations that lead consumers to believe the turkeys used in its Products are raised by 'independent family…

Singapore has reportedly approved for sale a lab-grown meat product to be sold as "cultured chicken." The product, created by Eat Just, has been approved for use in chicken nuggets following a safety assessment submitted to the Singapore Food Agency's "novel food" working group. The cultured chicken will reportedly sell for a price comparable to animal-derived chicken nuggets and will be available "soon enough to begin making a reservation" at an unnamed restaurant, according to Eat Just founder Josh Tetrick.

The National American Meat Institute and the Alliance for Meat, Poultry and Seafood Innovation have urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to seek more information on cultured or cell-based meat and poultry products. The organizations recommend that USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to obtain information about the finished products. "For cell-based/cultured products, there are several approaches to producing these products and, depending on the approach, the characteristics of some products may vary from those of conventional products, as noted by the agencies," the letter notes. " The companies developing these products are committed to supporting and complying with principles that ensure labeling is truthful and not misleading, does not disparage cell-based/cultured or conventional products, enables consumers to distinguish between such products, and is consistent with the safety and nutritional qualities of the product."

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