Minnesota Judge to Decide Whether to Slow Swine Slaughter Speeds
· Feds argue USDA not responsible for worker safety
· Attorneys general, lobbyists have weighed in
Fatima Hussein, Bloomberg Law
Oct. 13, 2020
A federal judge in Minnesota is set to decide on whether to throw out a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that sped up swine slaughter lines for some companies, or send it back to the agency for revision.
U.S. District Judge Joan N. Ericksen in Minneapolis heard summary judgment and remand arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union challenging the USDA’s move to increase line speeds at pork slaughterhouses.
“These workers will face an increased risk of injury,” said Adam Pulver, an attorney at Public Citizen Litigation Group, who represents UFCW in the litigation. He added that if Ericksen sends the rule back to the agency, there must be a new notice and comment process.
The UFCW and a group of UFCW locals sued the agriculture department in October 2019 soon after the agency’s Food Safety Inspection Service finalized the Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection rule, revoking maximum slaughter line speeds for some companies.
The government has said that faster line speeds could increase line production by 12.5%, and that its related plans for flexible oversight would lead to better control of pathogens and safer conditions for workers.
The unions want the rule set aside, arguing the increase will create additional safety concerns in an already-hazardous industry where workers suffer injuries and illness more than twice as often as workers in all other private industries, according to documents filed in the case.
Calling the union’s claim speculative during the Tuesday hearing, Justice Department lawyer Joseph DeMott said the USDA’s role isn’t to regulate worker safety.
The new line speeds “were designed for adequate food safety inspections,” he said, adding that if the court were to leave the prior standards in place, “it’d be in sole concern for worker safety.”
The U.S. wants Ericksen to either grant judgment in its favor or remand the matter to the USDA for reconsideration of its rule.
While the case was filed before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, its significance has been magnified by the thousands of meat processing workers who have since contracted Covid-19 or...
more, including links