October 27, 2022

New Swine Inspection System upheld in court

New Swine Inspection System upheld in court

By: Sydney Sheffield

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) was recently upheld in court. NSIS allows for additional inspection duties to be done by the processing facility’s employees as well as allows for faster line processing speeds. Authorized as law in 2019, the voluntary program is said to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal inspection process, allow for the rapid adoption of new food-safety technologies in pork slaughter, and has the potential to increase harvest capacity.

“We are pleased that the federal judge upheld the USDA NSIS that incentivizes investment in new technologies while ensuring a safe supply of wholesome American pork,” the National Pork Producers Council said in a press release. “Pork producers use science-based approaches to continuously improve and modernize their practices to ensure product quality and consistency and their workforce’s health and safety.” 

Food and Water Watch, a non-profit that focuses on corporate and government accountability relating to food, water, and corporate overreach, along with the Center for Food Safety and the Humane Farming Association, filed the motion earlier this year. The suit argued that the 2019 NSIS rules violate the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). The groups claim that the NSIS program relies in large part on meat company employees conducting inspections instead of government inspectors versus the long-established, standard practice.

“The Trump administration implemented this outrageous self-policing initiative that hands over inspection duties to meat companies themselves — even though 48 million Americans get sick every year due to foodborne illness,” said Zach Corrigan, senior attorney for Food & Water Watch and lead counsel in the case. “Enough is enough. We are asking a federal court to throw out the unlawful rules the Biden administration continues to defend.”

FMIA permits USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) the authority to ensure the safety of meat products. However, US District Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California agreed with the defendant’s statement that the pre-inspection sorting conducted by plant employees does not replace federal inspection; rather, it provides an additional step in the process before the federal inspection occurs. “Under NSIS, federal inspectors still inspect each animal before it is slaughtered for meat,” White wrote in the court documents.

Naturally, the ruling was criticized by plaintiffs. Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association said, “This ruling is deeply disturbing. USDA should not be relying on the industry's own employees to conduct federal meat inspections. Food safety and humane slaughter laws should be vigorously enforced by federal inspectors for the sake of both animal welfare and public health."