A federal district court in Minneapolis has ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture acted unlawfully when it eliminated limits on the speeds at which plants run their slaughter lines without considering the increased risk of injury to plant workers.
“The court’s decision recognized that Trump’s USDA violated basic principles of administrative law when it refused to consider the impact of its actions on plant workers and claimed, contrary to its longstanding practice, that it was not allowed to do so,” said Adam Pulver, Public Citizen attorney. Public Citizen is a consumer advocacy organization.
An agency can’t refuse to consider facts that go against its policy preferences, as USDA did in ignoring workers and public health advocates, and blindly following industry’s wishes, Pulver said.
The Public Citizen Litigation Group represented four United Food and Commercial Workers’ locals and UFCW International, which represents 33,000 workers in the pork processing industry.
The court ruled that USDA acted arbitrarily when it refused to consider the impact of eliminating line speeds on worker health and safety in a rule it issued creating the New Swine Inspection System or NSIS in October 2019.
The court also rejected the meatpacking industry’s arguments that increased line speeds don’t put workers at increased risk of harm, citing evidence showing a relationship between high speeds and musculoskeletal injuries, lacerations, and amputations.
The court vacated the provision of NSIS that eliminates line speed limits but placed its order on hold for 90 days to allow USDA time to develop a plan for those plants that have converted to NSIS.
“America’s essential workers in pork plants across the country have put their health and safety at risk every day during this pandemic to help families put food on the table,” said Marc Perrone, president of UFCW International.
The ruling is a victory for workers – finally ending the dangerous Trump USDA policy that allowed pork plants to push workers to the breaking point with unsafe line speeds that increase the risk of injury and put the safety of our food supply in jeopardy, said Perrone.