Federal Judge Upholds New Swine Inspection System, Dismissing Animal Rights Challenge

In a recent legal battle, a federal judge has ruled in favor of the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), upholding the adoption of the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS). Chief Judge Elizabeth Wolford of the Western District of New York stated that the implementation of NSIS was “not arbitrary and capricious” and highlighted the agency’s detailed reasons for transitioning from the traditional system to the new approach.

Background: Several animal rights and environmental organizations, including Farm Sanctuary, Animal Equity, Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Mercy for Animals, Inc., North Carolina Farmed Animal Save, and Animal Outlook, had challenged the final rule, which addresses the modernization of inspection at market hog slaughter establishments.

Challenges Raised: The plaintiffs presented three main arguments in their motion for summary judgment. They contended that NSIS violated the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, emphasizing the requirement for government inspectors to examine all animals before slaughter. Additionally, they argued that oversight authority was being shifted from government inspectors to establishment employees. Finally, the plaintiffs claimed that FSIS acted arbitrarily and capriciously, deviating from established policy and disregarding animal welfare evidence.

Key Points of the NSIS: Published in October 2019, NSIS is a voluntary system that involves establishment employees in ante-mortem and post-mortem sorting activities before federal inspection. It also allows establishments to set their own line speeds based on their ability to maintain process control. However, a court order in March 2021 mandated line speed limits for NSIS establishments, limiting them to 1,106 head per hour.

Court’s Ruling: Chief Judge Wolford dismissed the plaintiffs’ contentions, stating that NSIS did not violate existing acts and that FSIS adequately considered animal welfare concerns during the rule’s adoption. The ruling highlighted that FSIS responded to comments, provided reasoned explanations for choices made, and did not ignore concerns related to training and humane handling.

Extension of NSIS Time-Limited Trial: On November 28, 2021, FSIS announced an extension of the NSIS time-limited trial for an additional 90 days. This extension aims to facilitate an independent study designed by a team of experts to evaluate the impact of increased line speeds on worker safety, as data submitted by swine establishments was deemed insufficient.

The judge’s ruling reinforces the FSIS’s position and its commitment to the effectiveness of swine slaughter inspection while addressing worker safety concerns through ongoing studies.

Stay tuned for further updates on the evolving landscape of swine inspection regulations.