WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration today for failing to release public documents detailing the potential harms resulting from reducing federal oversight and eliminating line-speed limits at pig slaughterhouses.
Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food Safety and Inspection Service. It seeks records important to understanding the administration’s consideration of risks to the environment, wildlife and public health from the so-called Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection rule.
The rule, finalized last year, eliminates federal caps on maximum speeds for operating hog slaughter lines. It also reduces by up to 40% the number of federal inspectors in the plants and replaces them with plant employees who are not required to have additional training. The Center sought federal records detailing the potential harms of the rule in August 2019, but the Trump administration has refused to release them.
“Consumers have every right to know the risks associated with the USDA handing vital oversight and safety responsibilities to large meatpackers that are focused on maximizing profits,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center. “The Trump administration is trying to obscure the harms its reckless policies pose to the environment, wildlife and public health. We can’t let that happen.”
The Center and its allies sued the USDA in federal court late last year for failing to fully consider the environmental and animal welfare implications of removing the limit on the number of pigs that can be slaughtered per hour and shifting responsibility for inspecting sick animals and tainted carcasses from federal inspectors to plant employees. Today’s lawsuit seeks to address additional transparency concerns related to the rule.
The environmental impacts of the rule are especially important because it could cause approximately 11.5 million additional pigs to be slaughtered annually at the slaughterhouses identified by the USDA, mostly in the Midwest and southeastern United States. Slaughterhouses generate a variety of air and water pollutants and can cause myriad other harmful effects. A plant’s environmental contamination risks are linked, in part, to the number of animals the plant processes.
Additional lawsuits have been filed against the USDA on behalf of slaughterhouse workers endangered by the rule, and by consumer advocates.
Late last year shortly after the rule was finalized, federal inspectors sounded the alarm over food-safety concerns associated with the new program.
Consumer safety groups are also calling for the USDA to delay the effective date of the rule until after the coronavirus outbreak is contained, citing slaughterhouse worker shortages related to the pandemic.
Slaughterhouses that are expected to move into the new program represent about 90% of all pork production in the United States.