US District Court for the District of Columbia has dismissed a law suit challenging USDA’s New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson held that the plaintiffs, the consumer rights group Food & Water Watch Inc (FWW) and two of its members, did not establish the requisite element of irreparable harm resulting from the NPIS to continue the lawsuit against US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vislack.

FWW had sued Vilsack after USDA issued the final rule establishing the NPIS last summer, charging that the new NPIS is “an unprecedented elimination of inspection resources for a secret set of young chicken and turkey slaughterhouses” that will “allow such establishments to dramatically increase their slaughter line speeds, while threatening public health and introducing unwholesome poultry into interstate commerce.”

Prior to the new rule, the traditional poultry inspection systems required the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service to allocate significant inspection personnel toward ‘organoleptic’ inspection activities, that involved the use of sight, touch, and smell to examine the poultry carcasses and detect defects and conditions. These inspection techniques stem from a time “when visually detectable animal disease were more prevalent and considered to be more of a concern than they are today,” according to the NPIS proposed rule cited in Judge Jackson’s holding.

The new rule relieves federal inspectors of the task of sorting a poultry company’s carcasses, and thus frees-up “Agency resources to conduct offline inspection activities that are more important for food safety, such as verifying compliance with sanitation and (other) requirements, or conducting Food Safety Assessments.”

According to Judge Jackson, plaintiffs “have failed to point to any scientific evidence demonstrating that the NPIS rules are even incrementally more likely to produce adulterated poultry products … .”

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