Amended Complaint Claims USDA Attempted to Conceal Pork Inspection Data

Parties arguing that a new pork inspection rule from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) eliminates necessary precautions and inspections filed their second amended complaint in the Northern District of California lawsuit on Thursday. The plaintiffs, including the Center for Food Safety, the Food & Water Watch, and the Humane Farming Association, claimed that the new rule lowers the quality of swine inspection requirements by turning the responsibility for inspections over to the companies involved in slaughtering and processing swine. 

The contested rule published on October 11, 2019, in the Federal Register, is known as the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS). According to the amended complaint, in addition to allowing companies to perform their own inspections, it lifts limits on production speeds which in turn makes inspections more difficult. 

Judge Jeffrey S. White granted a stipulation allowing the plaintiffs to submit their second amended complaint on Wednesday. The amended complaint, according to the stipulation, “makes minor technical changes and adds material that was obtained and learned by the Plaintiff” after their previous complaint was filed. 

The amended complaint added a paragraph alleging that the defendants “intentionally attempted to conceal and have refused to release data detailing the number of U.S. Suspect animals segregated in slaughter plants.” Because of this, they claimed that the defendants do not adequately complete inspections or require animals showing diseases to be separated during slaughter under the NSIS. The plaintiffs explained that the defendants’ response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the Food and Water Watch shows that the defendants did not have consistent data and were concerned about the data they would be disclosing. 

“Defendants approved these dangerous regulatory rollbacks, despite the fact that contaminated pork may cause as many as 1.5 million cases of foodborne illnesses, 7,000 hospitalizations, and 200 deaths in the United States each year,” the complaint explained. It claimed the new rule does not align with the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. 

In early February, Judge Jeffery S. White ruled to not dismiss the charges as requested by the defendants, concluding that the plaintiffs did have standing and that there was a risk of harm to the plaintiffs’ members under the new rule if the allegations were true. The stipulation allowing the amended complaint to be filed also allowed for the USDA and other defendants to have one month to respond to the amended complaint, which was an extension. 

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys with the Center for Food Safety and the Food and Water Watch and the defendants are represented by the United States Department of Justice.