The Department of Agriculture will not seek to overturn a court ruling ordering the nation’s hog processing facilities to operate at slower line speeds.
The administration had until the end of June to make its decision on how to handle a court ruling vacating a provision of the New Swine Inspection System that would have allowed facilities to operate at faster line speeds. In March, a federal judge ruled USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by soliciting comments on worker safety but not considering the issue.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said Wednesday it would “work with the establishments to comply with the court’s ruling and minimize disruptions to the supply chain.”
“The court stayed the order for 90 days to give the agency and the impacted plants time to adjust,” FSIS said in a constituent update. “At this time, establishments operating under NSIS should prepare to revert to a maximum line speed of 1,106 head per hour on June 30, 2021.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union brought the original case that produced the ruling in question. Mark Perrone, UFCW's president, said the union "applauds the USDA’s decision to respect the district court’s ruling."
“UFCW is calling on CEOs across the pork industry to work with the USDA to slow their line speeds," he added. "The safety of America's frontline food workers must never again take a backseat to corporate profits."
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On Tuesday, the National Pork Producers Council called on USDA to appeal the decision. Citing an economic analysis, the group said the ruling taking effect would equate to a 2.5% loss in pork packing capacity and an $80 million drop in income for producers. NPPC spokesman Jim Monroe said Wednesday the organization was "disappointed with USDA's decision to support a flawed federal district court decision."
"While the USDA has until the end of August 2021 to appeal the decision, irreparable harm will be exacted on small U.S. hog farmers when this court order goes into effect at the end of June 2021," he added. "NPPC will continue to pursue all avenues to reverse a court decision that will lead to pork industry consolidation and increased packer market power."
Story updated to include UFCW and NPPC comments.
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