Ag Policy Blog

Meat Industry Litigation Over Swine Rules, California Law

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A pair of court cases were filed in recent days with the nation's meatpackers challenging a California law over speace requirements for livestock while unions filed litigation over USDA new rules for line speeds at packing plants. (DTN file photo)

The meat industry in recent days has gotten tied up a couple of lawsuits over USDA's speed rule and California's state statute over confinement standards of animals.

On Monday, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, representing more than 13,000 food workers, along with its local affiliates, Local 663 in Brooklyn Center, Minn., Local 440 in Denison, Iowa, and 2 in Bel Aire, Kansas, filed the suit with the advocacy group Public Citizen, filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. district Court of Minnesota seeking to block USDA's new rule on pork line speeds and inspections.

USDA finalized the rule in the Federal Register last week. In its rulemaking, USDA stated that it lacks authority and expertise to regulate issues related to worker safety, though the plaintiffs in the case maintain that USDA has always factored in worker safety in past rule-making plans regarding packer speeds and inspections.

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service received more than 83,000 comments related to its proposed rule on swine inspection, though USDA stated most of the comments were in the form of write-in campaigns by consumer groups, animal welfare organizations and labor unions.

The rules promulgated by USDA revoked maximum line speeds for swine slaughter operations after 34 years in place. USDA expects 40 packing plants to adopt the inspection system and line speeds.

In the lawsuit, the local unions cite that workers on slaughter lines are often diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome due to repetitive motions from their work. They also suffer lacerations and can even have amputations.

The lawsuit also claims the new rule shifts online inspection responsibilities from USDA to plant employees and would reduce the number of federal inspectors on processing lines by 40%.

Lawsuit complaint filed against USDA by the unions and Public Citizen:…

-- By Chris Clayton


NAMI v. California

The North American Meat Institute on Friday filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California's Proposition 12, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, which imposes space requirements for breeding pigs and veal calves in the state and forbids the sale of meat produced out of state under standards that do not meet California's law.

"Prop 12 hurts the family on a budget with higher prices for pork, veal and eggs, and unfairly punishes livestock producers outside of California by forcing them to spend millions more just to access California markets," said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts.

"We are a highly-efficient and unified economy in this country and so that's just not right. If this unconstitutional law is allowed to stand, California will dictate farming practices across the nation. California's overreach creates an unworkable patchwork of differing state regulations that will make it impossible for the supply chain, from small farmers to your local grocer, to function."

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to halt implementation of the law, saying it violates the commerce clause and the federal structure of the Constitution.

"The Constitution prohibits states from discriminating against interstate and foreign commerce, regulating commerce outside of their borders or imposing undue burdens on interstate and foreign commerce," the suit says. "Prop 12 violates each of these limitations."

The law was enacted in November 2018.

U.S. District Court for Central District of California -- North American Meat Institute v. California…

-- By Jerry Hagstrom

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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