DES MOINES — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declined a request by the pork industry to increase the speed at which pigs can be processed into meat, delivering a victory to slaughterhouse workers who had raised safety concerns about the plan.
The USDA announced Wednesday evening it would enforce a Minnesota judge’s order issued in March. The judge struck down plans begun years ago but finalized by the USDA under former President Donald Trump’s administration that would have lifted maximum line speeds at pork slaughterhouses, allowing dozens of plants to speed up production.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union International, which represents 33,000 workers in the pork processing industry, welcomed the decision.
“President Biden made a commitment to strengthen safety protections for America’s meatpacking workers on the frontlines of this pandemic. With today’s USDA statement, the Biden administration is reaffirming its commitment to worker safety,” union president Marc Perrone said Wednesday.
The USDA’s decision followed a March 31 ruling by U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen, who had considered a lawsuit filed by the union and found the USDA acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it refused to consider the impact of faster line speeds on worker safety. Ericksen ordered the rule to be vacated but delayed the effective date for 90 days to give the USDA and the industry “time to prepare for any operational change.”
The National Pork Producers Council, a group representing pig farmers, this week asked the USDA to appeal the ruling, seek a stay while the appeal is considered and request the agency pursue a fast-tracked rule that would allow higher line speeds.
In a statement posted Wednesday on its website, the USDA said pork processing plants should prepare to revert to previous maximum line speeds as of June 30.