Lawsuits Against USDA Slaughter Rules Survive Agency’s Attempt to Dismiss

The Western District of New York ruled against dismissal in two lawsuits on Monday which challenge the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) rules for slaughtering animals, specifically a rule which eliminated line speed limits for pork slaughtering and another allowing downed or non ambulatory cattle to be slaughtered for food. 

The court noted that the defendants arguments for dismissal in both matters were “virtually the same.” The USDA and its Food Safety and Inspection Service, along with associated individuals, claimed that the plaintiffs did not have either organizational or associational standing to file the lawsuits. 

Both of the lawsuits were filed by nonprofit organizations advocating to protect people, animals, and the environment from “industrial animal agriculture.” One was filed in December 2019 contesting the lack of speed limits for pig slaughter lines and eliminated federal inspection requirements in a 2018 rule. The second lawsuit filed in February 2020 addressed a separate USDA rule allowing the slaughtering non-ambulatory cattle. 

In its denial of the motions to dismiss, the court noted that the 2018 rule was finalized despite 83,000 comments which were mostly negative with only slight modifications. The filing also explained that, although the 2018 rule made significant changes, the USDA did not complete an environmental analysis. 

In response to the lawsuit against allowing the slaughter of downed  pigs and cattle, the court said that the USDA has recognized that downed pigs and cattle are more likely to have diseases, however, it still allows them to be slaughtered for food. 

The Western District of New York further cited that the plaintiffs claimed in the complaints that both of these USDA rules impaired their missions, caused them to divert resources, and impacted their members who eat pork and cattle and are concerned about health risks the alteration could cause. 

The plaintiffs in the December 2019 lawsuit are Farm Sanctuary, Animal Equality, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Outlook, the Center for Biological Diversity, Mercy For Animals and North Carolina Farmed Animal Save. They are represented by the Center for Animal Law Studies’ Animal Law Litigation Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School, Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Lewis & Clark Law School’s Earthrise Law Center.

The February 2020 lawsuit includes some of the same plaintiffs and the Animal Welfare Institute, Compassion in World Farming, Fast Forward, and Mercy for Animals Inc. These plaintiffs are represented by Greenfire Law and Vermont Law School. 

Other lawsuits have also addressed the pork slaughter rule regarding speed and inspections, including one in the District of Minnesota filed where unions for the workers at the plant were granted summary judgment, under which the portion of the final rule which eliminated line speed limits was vacated and the matter was sent to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. In another lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California, the court determined that the plaintiffs, food advocacy organizations, did not have standing.