U.S. pork processors face higher costs and slowness after court decision

The US Department of Agriculture was pressured to appeal the decision of a federal court that overturned a rule that allows factories to slaughter pigs more quickly.

An industry group representing America’s largest slaughterhouses on Thursday lobbied the United States Department of Agriculture to appeal a decision by a federal court that overturned an agency rule that allows pig factories to slaughter pigs more quickly.

The ruling issued on Wednesday in the United States District Court in Minnesota could increase costs for refrigerators like Seaboard Foods and Clemens Food Group and decrease meat production after outbreaks of COVID-19 in refrigerators limited production last year.

A lawsuit filed against the USDA by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union defied the 2019 rule, arguing that the increased speed of slaughter hampered worker safety.

A federal judge said there was no evidence that the Trump era rule would assess worker safety. The USDA says it is evaluating the decision.

The North American Meat Institute, which represents meat companies, said it was disappointed with the verdict. The institute argued that the increase in line speed did not correlate with the increase in injury rates.

“We would like to see the agency appeal and ask for a suspension,” said the institute.

Seaboard Foods, the second largest pig producer in the United States after Smithfield Foods, accelerated its pig factory in Guymon, Oklahoma, last year, becoming the first company to operate under the new rule. Workers told Reuters that the line’s faster speeds increased injuries at the plant.

Seaboard did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

The change in the rule allowed the pigs to slaughter as quickly as they wanted, as long as they avoided fecal contamination and minimized bacteria. The US court suspended the decision to repeal the rule for 90 days, giving companies and the Biden government time to adapt.

The elimination of line speeds was part of the New Pig Inspection System, which also allows pig farms to use some company inspectors instead of those from the USDA.

Tyson Foods Inc will move ahead with plans to implement the system in the coming months at its factories in Madison, Nebraska and Perry, Iowa, said spokeswoman Liz Croston. The company is focused on modernizing inspections and food safety, not on line speeds, she said.

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