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Suit filed against USDA's swine 'modernization' rule

Union representing workers in Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas say USDA rule puts profits above worker safety

Compiled by staff

October 8, 2019

2 Min Read
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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, together with Public Citizen and UFCW Locals 663, 440 and 2 filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota on Oct. 7, seeking to stop the USDA’s new swine slaughter modernization rule which eliminates the line speed limits in pork slaughter plants and turns inspection over to slaughter companies. The unions represent workers in Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas.

The lawsuit alleges that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is not backed by reasoned decision-making.

“The safety of America’s food and workers is not for sale and this lawsuit seeks to ensure this dangerous rule is set aside and these companies are held accountable,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone.

“We urged the USDA to consider how unsafe this rule would make our workplaces, but they refused,” said UFCW Local 663 President Matt Utecht in Minnesota. “We had no choice but to go to court to stop a rule that will endanger the health and livelihoods of thousands of UFCW members.”

“The USDA claims that this rule will make our food safer,” said UFCW Local 2 President Martin Rosas in Kansas. “But our members, who have worked in the industry for years, know firsthand it makes both the food they make and the plants they work in less safe. Let’s listen to the first-hand experts who work in these plants every day, instead of big corporations just looking to make even more money.”

Public Citizen and the United Food and Commercial Workers are asking the court to block implementation of the rule and set It aside, according to the StarTribune.

The USDA move would save large plants an estimated $3.78 million annually, according to Bloomberg, and allow pork processing plants to increase production by 12.5% annually.

Under the modernization, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says the processors “will have to develop written rules for sanitation and self-monitoring.” The rules are set to go into effect Dec. 2, reports

The pork industry says the rule changes were long overdue, the Kenosha News reports. Employees will be responsible for identification and removal of pigs not fit for slaughter due to disease, illness or injury before slaughter and must trim and identify defects on carcasses before a government inspector weighs in on food safety.

The rule lifts requirements for the number of hog carcasses flowing through plant processing lines. In five processing plants that have been used as test sites for the new rule, the USDA said production lines have sped up to an average of 1,099 pigs per hour, The Dispatch-Argus reports.

The case is United Food and Commercial Workers Union v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 19-cv-02660, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota.

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