USDA: Only DOJ can decide to appeal line speed ruling
Less than a day after the National Pork Producers Council urged the Agriculture Department to appeal a federal district court ruling on faster line speeds in slaughterhouses, USDA said only the Justice Department can make a decision about the appeal.
“Only the DOJ’s Office of the Solicitor General decides whether to appeal this decision and, to date, no determination has been made,” a spokesperson for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said in an email to The Hagstrom Report.
On March 31, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota ruled that the USDA violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) when it failed to consider if increasing line speeds would harm workers.
NPPC is urging USDA to intervene before the ruling takes effect at the end of next month by appealing the ruling, seeking a stay while the appeal is considered and requesting the agency pursue a new, fast-tracked rulemaking “that better reflects the modern processing plant technologies and practices and allows for higher line speeds.”
NPPC noted that the court “struck down a provision of USDA’s New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) allowing for faster harvest facility line speeds. NSIS, initiated during the Clinton administration and evaluated at five pilot plants over 20 years, was approved for industry-wide adoption in 2019. NSIS modernized an inspection system that had remained unchanged for more than 50 years.”
“The ruling will dramatically reduce hog farmer market power — particularly smaller producers located near impacted plants — and undermine pork industry competition,” NPPC said in a news release. NPPC cited a study by Dermot Hayes, a professor at Iowa State University.
Slowing down the speeds at which workers must slaughter and process hogs on a production line will result in a 2.5% loss in pork packing plant capacity nationwide, and more than $80 million in reduced income for small U.S. hog farmers, NPPC said.
According to Hayes, while the court decision will affect all hog farmers, small hog farmers will disproportionately bear the brunt, especially those near affected processing plants. Michigan pork producer Ed Reed, who sends 80% of his hogs to an affected plant 15 miles away from his farm, said in the news release, “I’m a small farm and we’re trying to capture as much value as we can. If we were to slow the plant down … we’re going to have capacity issues,” with the next closest processing plant 2.5 hours away. Those added transportation costs may be too much for producers to bear, he added.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW), which represents more than 250,000 workers in meatpacking plants and food processing plants, called on USDA to respect the federal court ruling.
“The Trump USDA’s dangerous rule allowed pork plants to push workers to the breaking point with unsafe line speeds that increase their risk of injury and put the safety of our food supply in jeopardy,” the union said.
“The federal district court recognized that the USDA was required to consider worker safety and failed to do so. Safety always must come first with our country’s food supply chain. As the union for our nation’s frontline pork plant workers, UFCW is urging the USDA to respect the district court’s ruling and conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of increased line speeds on worker safety. The USDA must evaluate these worker safety risks before allowing pork plants to exceed the line speeds they were allowed to operate at through 2019.
“UFCW is calling on every company in the pork industry to slow their line speeds so that we can keep our food supply secure and protect the brave men and women who produce the high-quality American-made pork that so many families rely on every day.”
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