By Gary Truitt
Those thick, grilled pork chops, tasty pork burgers, and savory bacon may soon be hard to find thanks to action by a federal judge. The action has nothing to do with how pork is raised, what pigs are fed, or even the safety or nutrition of pork. The issue involves the speed at which pork is processed but has wide-ranging, unintended consequences for those who consume pork and those who produce it.
The USDA recently implemented a regulation that allowed pork processing plants to increase the speed at which they process pigs. This is an idea that was first began during the Clinton administration and, after 20 years of testing, was made permanent by the Trump administration. Then on March 31, 2021, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen ruled that unlimited line speed was illegal because, she said, USDA broke federal law and was “arbitrary and capricious” when it ignored both worker and consumer safety in abolishing the speed limits.
This argument is bogus since a 20-year-long, pilot project of higher line speeds revealed no negative impact on worker or consumer safety. On the surface this may look like a tiff between unions and management; in reality, if allowed to stand, the ruling will result in economic hardship for pig farmers and higher prices and less pork for consumers. “My farm, Martin Family Farms, sells pigs to a processing facility that utilizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Swine Inspection System (NSIS),” said Brian Martin in an OP-ED released in Indiana Pork last week. “It’s not just our farm. The court ruling will affect Indiana’s nearly 3,000 hog farms and trickle down throughout the entire economy. Even farms that don’t sell directly to one of these plants could still be hit in the pocketbook once there are more pigs in the U.S. than there is production capacity. Indiana hog production generates 14,590 jobs and contributes more than $633 million in personal income. All of this could be in jeopardy if this damaging court ruling stands.”
The USDA has stated it will comply with the court ruling and force plants to reduce speeds. This has angered meat industry groups and members of Congress who are calling on the Biden administration to fight the ruling.
This is just the latest incident where court rulings not based on science or economics is having an impact on what you and I can buy at the grocery store and what we have to pay for it. From mandating the kind of eggs we can eat to limiting the size of soft drinks we can buy, local and federal courts have played fast and loose with our food choices. Most of these rulings have little to do with science or safety. They are typically driven by special interests or activist groups.
As producers and consumers, we need to be more aware of and more resistant to efforts to limit our food choices and food supply. Hunger is a real problem in most communities, and actions that limit our food choice and food supply only exacerbate the food insecurity issue. If we don’t limit the restrictions on our food, we may find it hard to fill our plates with the safe and nourishing protein we need.